It Starts With Resilience

Emillio Ortiz (of 503 West Open Kitchen & Craft Bar in Colorado Springs) describes his emotional profits and losses over the past 12 months.

Smiling male bartender with dark hair and short beard polishing a glass behind a bar.
Courtesy Emillio Ortiz

Last year was the worst year on record for our industry. The devastating toll was  paid not just in financial form but also by an elusive mental loss that is difficult to quantify. Colorado Springs has seen staples close—some temporarily, and some for good. Morale has plummeted. We have become head executives of emotional adaptability, fluctuating between desperation and aspiration.

It has been important for me to take a personal inventory of what has been lost and gained during this period. Perhaps the biggest challenge during the pandemic has been maintaining my psychological balance. The proverbial “blood, sweat, and tears” have never manifested themselves more than in this last year. Putting in the physical work and hours have always been part of the game as an owner/operator. The difficulty came in discussing the uncertainty of our staff’s future with them and the distinct possibility that we might not survive. Many of our employees have never known another profession outside the hospitality business. The inability to comfort them felt like utter failure.

The things I am willing to leave behind are the conversations that don’t lead to progress or a solution.

Having a command over day-to-day operations is one of the primary reasons many of us ventured out on our own. Losing that control was earth-shattering. In a trade that is constantly beleaguered by uncertainty, it’s especially worrisome that we have no timeline or clear financial path forward.

The things I am willing to leave behind are the conversations that don’t lead to progress or a solution. As our political environment has shown us, chaos brings to light deficiencies that may have otherwise remained out of sight. Mental health has always been an elephant-in-the-room subject, but with the advent of quarantine and drug and alcohol abuse, the stage has been set to take this topic seriously.

I take huge pride in knowing how resilient and innovative our industry is. At 503 West, we pivoted right away with to-go cocktails and managed to offer new and creative ways to imbibe. We condensed our menu and made it more cost-effective and carryout friendly. We expanded our merchandise and created cocktail-scented candles. Our industry will adapt with tech and to-go alcohol, thus making the convenience-driven market a very important driver for our growth.

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