A River to Cross

Edwin Zoe, of Zoe Ma Ma (in Denver and Boulder) and Chimera Ramen (in Boulder) describes his emotional profits and losses over the past 12 months.

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Black and white photo of bridge spanning wide river with dark clouds overhead.
Forging ahead isn't easy. Here's how Edwin Zoe found light. / Copyright: natashsergeeva

As we approach the anniversary of the shutdown with so many lives and livelihoods needlessly lost and destroyed, there’s much sadness and anger ready to consume me. What has helped me through the darkness is the goodness and gratitude.

I will remember March 16, 2020 for the rest of my life. The governor had rightly shut down restaurant dining starting the next day to combat the pandemic. It was my birthday, and I had planned to spend the time with family and friends. Instead, after Zoe Ma Ma and Chimera closed and the kids had gone to bed, I sat in the dark well into the wee hours, worried about how I was going to navigate this crisis and provide for my family.

Black and white photo of Asian man with gray hair wearing a black zip-neck sweater.
Courtesy Edwin Zoe

Like so many restaurant workers living paycheck to paycheck, many local restaurants stay open payroll to payroll. Without help from others, we had a few months before we went under. Two things I’ve learned through the years are that, for prideful men like me, asking for help takes courage and accepting it takes grace.

I don’t think of myself as courageous, so one thing I did was promote gift cards to our friends and loyal customers. I reasoned it was a purchase, not a handout. The purchases poured in, even from friends I’ve not seen in years. The truth is, I knew these were more than just purchases. So, with as much grace as I can muster, thank you all for your kindness! (I get very emotional thinking about this.) 

As restaurateurs know, one major expense beyond our control is rent. With no revenue, we can turn off the lights and furlough the staff, but there is nothing to stop rent from sucking us under. Getting help from our landlords was critical. Thankfully, they worked diligently with us on a path through the crisis. Thank you so much, Doug Haffnieter, Sax Family LLC, Jessica Cole, and GLL BVK Properties, for your vital support! 

By and large, I share the popular sentiment that large banks are cold, heartless institutions. However, there are also caring community members working at those banks. In early January, I received a call from Lynn Baxter of Chase Bank. She called to check in on me, as she has done regularly since the crisis began, to let me know about the stimulus bill. Thank you, Lynn, for your caring professionalism!

I’ve worked on a statewide paid family and medical leave (PFML) insurance program since 2019, when I had the honor to serve on the state’s task force on this essential benefit for Colorado’s low-wage restaurant workers. Senator Faith Winter helped put PFML on the ballot and Debra Brown of Good Business Colorado (a small business organization I proudly cofounded with her) literally hit the road and drove all across our state to gather support from small business owners. The result—despite the pandemic—was that Colorado’s voters made our state the first to pass PFML by ballot! Thank you, Debra Brown and Sen. Faith Winter, for your tireless championship of this initiative.

There is a song by Jimmy Cliff called, “Many Rivers To Cross.” For me, this pandemic river has been particularly difficult to cross as my heart aches every time one of our beloved local restaurants (like Vesta, the Market, and Brasserie Ten Ten, to name a few) go under. However, we must go on, for there is no other way forward. Much love to our local restaurant community!

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

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