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Eat and Drink

The Front Range Restaurant Community Steps Up In the Face of Coronavirus

Doors are closing, but local restaurants are also quickly adapting to provide delivery and pick-up orders, and banding together to feed colleagues and the community.

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Two weeks ago, Jennifer Jasinski and Beth Gruitch were celebrating the Outstanding Restaurateur semifinalist nod their restaurant group, Crafted Concepts (Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Stoic & Genuine, Ultreia) earned from the James Beard Foundation, and their downtown Euclid Hall gastropub was feeding about 500 people each day. Today, Jasinski, Gruitch, and their 250-strong staff are preparing to close the decade-old Euclid Hall at of the end of business on March 17.

“Our lease expires in August 2020, and even though we had been offered to stay until June 2021, we were already looking for a new spot to move Euclid Hall,” Jasinski says. “But now, with sales plummeting sharply at all of our restaurants, if we want to pay our staff and vendors, we have to close. We had a great 10 years, and I’m so proud of what we did at Euclid Hall. We need to figure out our short-term plan, but long-term, we hope to reopen eventually in another location.”

In the meantime, Jasinski and Gruitch are scrambling to find positions for the Euclid Hall staff at the other Crafted Concept restaurants. But with sales down by 40 to 50 percent from this time last week, Jasinski says it’s going to be tricky. They are working on a plan to stagger which days Stoic & Genuine, Ultreia, Rioja, and Bistro Vendôme are open, and are developing “Feast on the Fly” family-style meals to go at each restaurant, in which guests order an entrée and two sides, and get bread and butter, for a reduced price via curbside pickup. Jasinski added that they have separated tables at Rioja and will continue to offer in-person dining at the remaining four Crafted Concepts restaurants as long as they’re able.

Restaurant teams across the Front Range are doing similar brainstorming to figure out how to keep the lights on during this time of state- and city-wide closures, social distancing, and quarantines. Based on the experience of other countries, it appears as if it’s only a matter of time before area restaurants and bars close for in-person dining altogether. Food halls and markets, with their large crowd capacities, have been the first to shut down operations, with Avanti Food & Beverage temporarily shuttering over the weekend; Broadway Market closing indefinitely as of March 13; and Stanley Marketplace in Aurora announcing its closure last night.

Chef-owner Caroline Glover of Annette, located at Stanley Marketplace, has been talking to chef Brady Williams of high-end Canlis in Seattle, who has reimagined his tasting-menu restaurant into a drive-thru bagel sandwich and burger concept during the day and a delivery-only model at night. “Inspired by what Canlis is doing, Annette will be operating in a similar way starting on March 16,” Glover says. “We are trying our best to employ as many people as possible, so we’re moving to curbside service.” At lunchtime, Annette will have its butter lettuce salad, egg salad toast, French fries, and its beloved burger available to go. “People have been wanting the burger to come back,” Glover says, “so here it is!” She will also have a kids’ menu because so many children are home due to school closures. At dinnertime, you can order those same lunch items or Annette’s roasted chicken, braised pork shank, cheesy gratins, pecan pie, and pints of ice cream.

As of March 17, Stanley Marketplace will launch its “Stanley To Go” business, which will be set up on the market’s southeast plaza. There, every day from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m., marketplace restaurants will have pick-up stations where you can collect to-go food orders. Comida, Rolling Smoke BBQ, and Sweet Cow Ice Cream will have their food trucks in operation on site, and Denver Biscuit Company, Logan House Coffee Company, and Rosenberg’s Bagels and Delicatessen, with their separate entrances, will all have pick-up for to-go orders inside their establishments.

Avanti Food and Beverage was the first to close its doors in an effort to prevent the usual crowds that gather at the LoHi food hall on weekends. Heather Morrison, co-owner of Avanti’s Bistro Georgette and Restaurant Olivia in Wash Park West, quickly worked with her fellow owners Ty Leon and Austin Carson to create a to-go menu of Restaurant Olivia’s most portable menu items (lasagna, pastas, arancini) so guests could pick up orders to eat at home. But as of today, the trio has decided to close Restaurant Olivia until Tuesday, March 17, to devise a new plan.

“We are trying to find the balance between being socially responsible and financially responsible,” Morrison says. “We want to take care of our staff and the community at large, but also make sure there is a Restaurant Olivia to come back to when this is over.” The goal: Offer menu items from Restaurant Olivia and Bistro Georgette for pick-up or delivery from the Wash Park West location, but also to help feed area health care workers and others in need. Leon also hopes to connect with other restaurants to find a way to collaborate around feeding the community.

Many other area restaurants are finding creative ways to offer help—and meals—to families dealing with school closures and fellow hospitality workers who are unemployed or working less due to the virus. At Bacon Social House’s Littleton and Denver locations, through April 6, parents can pick up a free children’s menu item with the purchase of an entree.

Boulder’s Arcana has established a sliding-scale community meal service, beginning on March 17, to help industry workers. Each meal—from burgers to vegan and gluten-free options—will be available at a recommended $20 per meal, with an honor-system-based sliding scale starting at free for most items. Industry pros will pay what they can, and Arcana will not charge any delivery fees or expect traditional tips. Rather, Arcana is asking that diners donate whatever they can afford for “staff support,” with 100 percent of those donations going into a pool for those workers whose hours are being reduced or who are out of work altogether.

The Big Red F Restaurant group (Lola Coastal Mexican, Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, the Post Brewing Company, and others) is offering $15 entrée-and-a-drink meals for service industry workers (across all industries, from retail and hospitals to restaurants); discounts on delivery and gift cards; and are launching a weekly live-streaming Instagram “dinner party” on April 2. Here’s how it will work: Guests pre-order a meal kit that they pick up at a participating Big Red F restaurant. On the day of the event, participants log on to the Big Red F’s Instagram account, where they can watch as chefs demonstrate how to perfectly prepare the ingredients in the meal kit. Everyone watching will cook and eat the meal virtually together.

Katie Lazor, executive director of EatDenver, a nonprofit advocacy organization for Denver’s independently owned restaurants, isn’t surprised by the outpouring of support and collaboration between local chefs and operators. “Despite news changing by the hour and all of the fears of small business owners and employees in this time, this moment has also been an incredible window into the collaborative and resilient leadership of our restaurant community,” Lazor says. “Restaurant owners are sharing preparedness plans, door signage, news alerts, advice on food delivery, and supporting one another with words of encouragement. As we begin to see restaurants temporarily closing and hearing about a potential mandated shut down, residents can show their support for their favorite spots by ordering take-out or delivery; buying gift cards and merchandise; sending notes of support; and remembering that everyone is trying to do right by their employees and their community. The best thing we can all do is to have empathy and show grace toward one another. We will get through this together, with humor and hospitality.”

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