What We Lost

On the last day of the worst year, EatDenver's Katie Lazor looks back on 2020 and asks: How can we measure what we've lost?

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Black and white imagie of silhouette of dead tree on cloudy sky background.
This year's been brutal—but there is a way to honor the restaurants we're mourning. / fahroni © 123RF.com

Ending this painful and exhausting year, I continue to wonder: How do we measure the impact of a restaurant? Specifically, what have we lost this year—and what are we fighting to preserve? 

Is it the number of meals served? Sales numbers? Years open? Generations of ownership? Number of accolades? Money raised for local non-profits? Jobs created? Sales tax revenue generated?

No matter how we describe it, it doesn’t feel complete. 

Over the course of the year, we have all made pleas for support of this beloved and unfairly devastated industry. We know so deeply in our bones that these small businesses, these dreams, these livelihoods, and these massive parts of our economy and culture are valuable beyond measure, but it hasn’t been easy to articulate why. 

While we were all in the trenches, we have lost more than 100 Denver-area restaurants and bars since the pandemic (according to Westword’s ongoing list), and as of October, the National Restaurant Association says one in six restaurants has closed for good. 

We know so deeply in our bones that these small businesses, these dreams, these livelihoods are valuable beyond measure, but it hasn’t been easy to articulate why.

What we have lost and what is at risk are far more valuable than any numbers—however large—we can point to. Independent restaurants are their own communities, and critical pieces of the puzzle that give Denver and Colorado their sense of place and identity. And as we have all seen first-hand, they play a powerful role in feeding and uplifting our community, especially in times of crisis.  

The impact of these shuttered restaurants and bars goes far beyond anything we can quantify: 

“We’ve hosted many life-cycle events, your son’s Bris, your daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and we’ve celebrated love by catering your weddings. We’ve remembered and mourned those you’ve lost and provided sustenance for your Shiva…It’s the memories made at our restaurant, over good food with good company, that we are most proud of and that we’ll undoubtedly miss the most.” -Gerard and Jason Rudofsky of Zaidy’s Deli, Facebook

“I will miss all the wonderful food and beverages everyone has mentioned. But most of all, I will miss the hours of escape, fun and socializing with the Buchi family and the wonderful mix of people there. “ -Julie Nissen about Buchi Cafe Cubano, Facebook 

“His big thing is that he always wanted it to be for everybody…At the time when he started it, you’d get dressed up to go to the symphony, and there were people who had never even seen live music. So there was no cover charge, no dress code. The bums on the street were just as welcome to come and listen as the millionaires.” -Anna Diaz, daughter of El Chapultepec founder Jerry Krantz, as reported in The Know

“One can tell how much Mark loves to feed people and make them feel at home. I felt more at home at The Market than any other restaurant, deli, bakery I’ve ever been to.” -Jeannie Paty about the Market, Instagram

“bar helix was never just my business. it represented everything to me that the word *home* is usually associated with. safe haven. a place to dream, and to be encouraged. somewhere that is always familiar, always waiting. a space to create traditions and memories, to be replayed over every year. home is where your family is, your people, your tribe, your #squad, your community. home is where we all feel comfortable—to be seen and loved for exactly who we are. bar helix was all of this for me, and so much more.” -Kendra Anderson of Bar Helix, Facebook

“Vesta was and is a foundation of my entire adult life. Everything I am and have came from my years there and I think of those times with nothing but the most profound joy and pride. We were part of something truly special.” – Rob Bowman about Vesta, Facebook 

“We will cherish the great years and memories we’ve had within these four walls…First dates, last dates, birthdays, births, deaths, anniversaries, promotion and graduation celebrations, marriage proposals, I hate you divorce tequila shots, and just about anything and everything in between that someone might hoist a glass to. So many college kids who worked with us in the beginning met and married at Zolo and then brought their kids in car seats while they enjoyed dinner and a Zolorita. Later, they came in to eat while their kids bussed and hosted and served, my own children included. I can think of dozens of Zolo weddings and a grip of Zolo kids.“ -Dave Query of Zolo Southwestern Grill

The phrases regulars and past employees use over and over include every way possible to describe feelings of inclusion, being seen, and connection to a community.

The phrases regulars and past employees use over and over include: “part of a restaurant family,” “my home away from home,” “it raised me,” “a place to escape,” and every way possible to describe feelings of inclusion, being seen, and connection to a community. These contributions, although unmeasurable, are essential to a connected and healthy society. They make Denver and Colorado a better place to live, work, and visit.

As we start a new year with the promise of vaccines, a second stimulus package, more capacity, more jobs, and light at the end of the tunnel, we know that even so, there will be endless challenges to come. 

It is critical we continue to fight to protect the independent restaurant. We need to tell our federal senators and representatives—every day—how urgent the RESTAURANTS Act (dedicated funds for direct aid) still is. At the state level, we need to demand restaurant workers are included in phase one of the vaccine rollout, just as grocery store workers are. Tell our state legislature we need an extension of sales tax retention (and any other version of financial assistance). Finally, at the county level, we must share the importance of an urgent launch and approval process for the 5 Star Certification Program. 

Now, I ask each of us to honor the restaurants we’ve lost by protecting the ones we still have.

Talk to us! Email your experiences (and thoughts, opinions, and questions—anything, really) to askus@diningout.com 

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