MANITOU SPRINGS, Colorado — In the kitchen at The Loop restaurant, you can hear the spatulas chopping sizzling meat on the grill while aluminum tray lids clank on counter-tops. The pair of cooks here are busy serving up the sopes and molcajetes the Mexican eatery is famous for. The only difference between today late February is that all of the dishes are now packed up neatly in to-go containers.
"Percentage-wise, we're doing about 15 percent of the business we did before," says owner Matt Gray. "Everyday is like a slow Tuesday, it doesn't really pay all the fixed costs, but it's been very helpful and the kids make some tips and it's been good for everybody."
Gray borrowed money last month through the federal Paycheck Protection Program to be able to keep paying his employees during the shutdown. This weekend, he's paid it all back, all $170,000.
"I've decided I'm not going to need it, and somebody's going to need it more than I do," Gray said. "The Loop's going to make it through just fine. Hopefully, someone else will get to use the money."
He said the to-go orders have been a blessing during the month long stay-at-home order. But that revenue alone still only make up a fraction of what his restaurant could earn if it were fully open.
"So, the majority of the staff is on unemployment. Just a few of the kids are doing to-go orders and they're getting paid tips and salary," said Gray.
Employees cannot claim unemployment benefits if they're still receiving a paycheck through the Paycheck Protection Program. Gray said the expanded unemployment benefits are actually giving more money to his staff than if he could if everyone was allowed to return.
But they can't return right now because restaurant dining rooms are still closed under the Safer-at-Home order. Gray hopes Governor Polis will let restaurants re-open their dining rooms in a limited capacity later this month. He's already removed half of tables and had the building deep cleaned in anticipation of a gradual reopening.
As for the PPP money, he hopes by paying off the loan early, the Small Business Administration will be able to lend it out again to a business owner who either missed out or need additional help.
"I'm sure someone can use the money," Gray said.
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