If 2020 has anything to say about it, this winter might turn out to be among the harshest in Colorado history. Even on the hottest day in August, the industry was already worrying, bracing, and strategizing how to make it through the season of distanced dine-in. “That’s our freakout right now,” says Jen Thoemke, co-owner of Cafe 13 in Golden. To that city’s credit, it’s considering grants for outdoor heaters and lights, but no one seems to be under any delusion that those things will be an adequate substitute for access to indoor square footage.
For the summer, Hosea Rosenberg, chef-owner of Blackbelly and Santo in Boulder, brought the dining room outside. He set up tents with tables, chairs, even art, nearly mimicking the indoor dining experience. But with patio expansions coming to an end, Rosenberg knows that he won’t be able to keep the outdoor space running for much longer. Instead, he plans to lean on his catering staff (COVID has gutted that portion of his business) to prepare for the expected influx of to-go orders. “It’s tricky, though,” he says. “We don’t know what’s going to happen this winter.” With so much uncertainty, Rosenberg expects to see many restaurants beefing up their to-go methods.
Dana Query with Boulder’s Big Red F Restaurant Group says their restaurants are working hard to diversify menus and add value so they appeal to diners who prefer to carry out. That will be the name of the game this winter, she says, acknowledging, “It’s not just the guests who are nervous to dine inside. It’s also the staff.” Big Red F, whose restaurants range from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, is also launching in-house delivery service, which allows the restaurants to keep the fee that would normally go to a third-party service. “If there’s an option to choose delivery from us versus a third-party delivery, it’s a huge help,” explains Query.
For his part, C. Barclay Dodge, chef-owner of Bosq in Aspen, is gambling on a creative approach: Bosq will continue to seat diners outdoors. (At Bosq, the 50 percent indoor capacity rule will only allow for 18 guests to dine inside at a time.) Dodge is fully embracing Aspen’s skiing and après-ski lifestyle and is considering setting up private tepees to give guests their own private dining rooms. These spaces would afford Bosq greater capacity while also offering a novel—and likely high-paying—experience. Phillips Armstrong, co-owner of Aurum in the ski resort towns of Breckenridge and Steamboat Springs, is similarly banking on private yurts (from campingyurts.com) that can be booked for parties up to eight.
In Colorado Springs, Brother Luck, chef-owner of Lucky Dumpling and Four by Brother Luck, recently purchased the lease from a struggling bar adjacent to the dumpling shop. Although a financial stretch, the move was a strategic way for Lucky Dumpling to up its capacity. “The indoor space is so tight. It only zones for 65 seats, so 50 percent is a killer,” Luck says. “We knew winter was coming and this is going to be our saving grace.”
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