Cafe Aion Limits Indoor Dining to Vaxxed Customers

The Boulder eatery is taking a bold step in the service of being pro- instead of reactive.

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Restaurant with bright blue front door and patio with umbrellas and patio tables along sunny sidewalk.
Cafe Aion will soon require indoor diners to be vaccinated. / Courtesy Cafe Aion

Those of us who came of age in the early 1990s may remember a little thing called Godwin’s Law. In short, it states that the longer an online discussion continues—regardless of whether it’s about your trip to the grocery store earlier this week, your niece’s seventh birthday, or that video of otters holding hands—the more likely it is that someone will make a comparison to Nazis or Adolf Hitler.

For Boulder chef Dakota Soifer, that took less than 24 hours after he made a public statement that his restaurant, Cafe Aion, would soon begin requiring proof of vaccination for customers who wanted to eat inside the dining room.

On July 29, Soifer posted the following statement on a colleague’s Facebook page:

I fully support doing what is needed to stay out in front of the newest COVID threat to protect our families, schools, businesses and community. I cannot express the level of disappointment that this, once again, is a government issue, an issue of public health, that is being passed off onto small businesses to navigate and enforce. In the absence of leadership from our elected officials, I will move forward with asking that our guests show proof of vaccination to dine in at my restaurant. It is a small way I can try to protect my family, protect my employees, and my community. This is a simple, proactive thing we can do to help prevent the loss of additional business and lives.

I believe that if everyone takes a small, albeit uncomfortable step towards doing what is best for our community as a whole, we can get through this in the best way.

By the next morning, he had received an email comparing Aion’s yet-to-be implemented policy to Gestapo officers demanding to see Germans’ papers during World War II, not to mention a slew of near-hysterical one-star online reviews. (Related PSA: Before you invoke HIPAA, make sure you actually know what the hell it actually is.)

Soifer is pragmatic: “Over the past 18 months we’ve learned dining indoors is a higher risk activity activity. We will be asking folks who want to dine indoors at Cafe Aion to be vaccinated. If they have a photo of [proof of vaccination] on their phone, that’s fine. If they don’t have it or don’t want to show it, we have a big patio and they can dine out there. If someone forgot a mask, we are happy to give them a free one.”

The policy isn’t taking effect immediately, he says. Staff is currently nailing down its processes for reservations already on the books, as well as the language it will use to communicate with diners. Soifer hopes to fully implement the change by mid-August, but he wanted to get the word out ASAP so “we’re not surprising anyone or turning anyone away.”

There are a few reasons Soifer made that call now, despite the industry’s collective hope that this summer was going to mark a return to normalcy. The imminent return of University of Colorado’s student population in mid-August was an impetus, as was spiking COVID cases due to the more virulent Delta strain. (In recent days, some metro-area counties have begun dipping their toes in the murky waters of mask guidance yet again.)

“We’re across the street from CU,” Soifer notes. “We do a lot of business with staff, professors, pre-theater guests before they go to a show, and in the spring Boulder kind of cried out asking the university to require vaccinations to put that protection in place for our community.” (CU agreed, and is requiring students, staff, and faculty to be vaccinated for the fall semester.) “It makes a lot of sense to be walking the walk ourselves.”

White man with dark hair and beard wearing a chef's coat and standing in front of a brick wall
Dakota Soifer says he’s not trying to take a political stance; he just wants to make a simple change he thinks many of his customers will appreciate. / Courtesy Cafe Aion

But Soifer also grew tired of being reactive. “We can read the tea leaves and know we’re going to have to make adjustments again,” he says. “The sooner we can do that and make those decisions in unison the better it’s going to be.”

When we asked if he’d spoken to fellow operators considering a similar course of action, he demurred: “It’s funny, right? Restaurants are this place that are run by people and customers love the personality of chefs and owners, but that’s awfully touchy when a restaurant voices a ‘political’ opinion. The backlash can be quite large; it can be a tip-toey place. I don’t think restaurants are feeling super-secure right now.”

But he remains hopeful: “The fact is Cafe Aion is a small restaurant, one of the smaller in Boulder. It’s a small step to take in terms of public safety. I’ve had to learn how to change vegetables in the middle of service and how to save the coq au vin if you overcook it. But I’m going to be learning how rolling this [policy] out works. Hopefully it’ll be a good learning experience and we can all move forward together.”

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