DENVER (CBS4) – People who want to dine outside at restaurants will continue to have more options in Denver with an extension from city officials announced Tuesday. The city has extended its temporary allowance for restaurants and bars to expand outdoors through October 2021.
“I’ve been in the restaurant industry for 23 years in Denver starting with Vesta in ’97,” said Josh Wolkon, the Stirrer of Sauce and founder of Secret Sauce Food & Beverage. “This is without question the most challenging six months of my career.”
The City and County of Denver program was originally slated to expire on Oct. 31. Businesses with outdoor seating areas not impacting the public right of way can request a 120-day extension. Those that have expanded into the public right of way can request a 90-day extension past Oct. 31, which will allow Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure to review street, sidewalk, alley, parking and travel lane closures.
“We’re proud this program has been a lifeblood for expanded serving capacity to help keep Denver businesses open and their employees working,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said in a statement. “We will work with restaurants and bars on creative models that allow them to extend this program through the cold weather months, while maintaining the strenuous protections in place to prevent COVID-19 transmission.”
In 2019, the industry generated more than $14.5 billion in revenue and employed almost 300,000 people or 10 percent of all workers in the state, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association. The organization says the industry lost nearly $1 billion in the month of April alone. Restaurants were operating at 63 percent of their staffing compared to last year, according to what members told the CRA in July. The industry has lost one third of its job during the pandemic.
“The worst day of my career was when we shut down and I had to layoff almost 250 people,” Wolkon told CBS4 on Tuesday, speaking about the beginning of the shutdown. His company currently operates Steuben’s as well as Ace Eat Serve. He had to close one of their restaurants, Vesta. His other location of Steuben’s hasn’t reopened.
In Denver, 333 restaurants and bars have expanded their seating capacity outdoors. Applications are still being accepted online, so there may be more restaurants and bars added to that list, if approved. The city is encouraging restaurants and bars that would like permanent outdoor patio expansion to begin the application process this fall.
“We’ve been lucky but more than ever we are dependent on outdoor seating,” Wolkon said. “It gives us that ability to start planning and investing, the hard part is not knowing what the demand will be.”
His two restaurants in the Uptown neighborhood already have their own patios but he has a tent now with heaters to keep people outside well into the winter. Wolkon says the lifestyle of our state calls on the public to embrace eating outdoors even if the weather is cold.
“Remember, this is Colorado, 30 degrees in the sunshine in the winter is gorgeous, we do it up in ski country, we do it when we go camping,” he said. “Put on an layer, dress warm, get some hot ramen, some hot green chile next door, hot toddies, and just embrace this winter and support this industry.”
Restaurants told the Colorado Restaurant Association 61 percent would take advantage of a winter patio extension last month. They expect to spend $5500 to make their outdoor dining ready for the winter. In August, 65 percent said they would have to permanently consider closing within six months if nothing changed.
“For some restaurants, this extension will be a lifeline, as it will allow them to add seats and invest in creative solutions for continuing patio dining through the cold months,” said Sonia Riggs, CEO of the association in an email to CBS4. Those investments will be significant.”
The Colorado Restaurant Association encourages government at all levels to provide financial assistance as the industry prepares for the next season. Grant programs could also play a key role in helping restaurants survive, the CRA said.
Wolkon says thanks to outdoor seating, he has kept both of his restaurants busy with regular staffing. He hopes the public continues to support the industry that plays such a crucial role in society.
“Just how important it is to the culture, to the fabric of our community, to go out and dine, to socially interact, to be served, and create jobs,” Wolkon said. “Our entire restaurant community is grateful for the support that Denver has shown throughout the summer heading into fall here, more than ever, we’re going to need it this winter.”