El Paso County restaurant owners, workers brace for level red restrictions

The county moves to level red on the COVID-19 this Friday
El Paso County restaurant owners, workers brace for level red restrictions
Posted at 11:21 PM, Nov 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-24 12:46:49-05

COLORADO SPRINGS — With the announcement of El Paso County moving to level red restrictions this Friday, many restaurants are bracing for the impacts closing indoor dining will bring.

Level Red includes:

  • Personal gatherings are prohibited.
  • High-risk populations are urged to stay at home only to go out for essential goods and services
  • Restaurants are limited to outside or open-air dining and carry-out, take-out, curbside take-out, and delivery. No indoor dining is allowed. Last call will be at 8 p.m.
  • Critical and non-critical retail is limited to 50% in-store capacity
  • Offices should move to 10% in-person staffing immediately, remote working is strongly encouraged
  • Bars remain closed
  • Places of worship are limited to 25% capacity indoors. Outdoors parties must maintain 6 feet of social distancing
  • Outdoor guided services are limited to 25% or 10 people.
  • Personal services will be at 25% capacity.

To put it as simply as possible, restaurant owners say we are going to come out of this shutdown with a lot fewer restaurants than we went into it with.

Meaning lots of people will be without a paycheck right as we enter the holiday season.

In Old Colorado City, you’ll find Bon Ton’s Cafe, where for the past 26 years, owner Catherine Barbo has been serving up breakfast and brunch with her staff at her side. “We serve a lot of eggs benedict,” Barbo said.

But that brings its own unique problem with indoor dining closing. “I think people are less inclined to do breakfast and they tend to order out for dinners,” she said.

Depending on takeout orders just isn’t feasible. “We’re getting at least five orders a day, but that’s not enough to keep the doors open,” she said.

RELATED: COVID-19 in Colorado blog

Downtown, at Red Gravy, they’re banking on outdoor dining to help them through this shutdown. “Obviously we’ve had to adapt in a number of different ways,” Red Gravy manager Samuel Mathai said. “Previous to the weather turning, we had this whole street shut down, so we were running as much business as we’ve ever run.”

The restaurant is working with the city to convert out-front parking spaces into more outdoor seating.

Back in Old Colorado City, Bon Ton's expansive outdoor patio doesn’t see the same foot traffic as it would downtown.

“At Bon Ton’s, we have heaters, but it’s still going to be cold outside,” Barbo said. “We probably won’t have many customers. And as a result, we will have to lay people off.”

It’s not something she takes lightly, but there’s not really a choice. “My staff lives paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “I don’t have enough money to keep paying them, without income coming in.”

And at Red Gravy, they’re having to get creative. “One thing that we’ve done that’s been great is shifting our delivery service from third party apps to in house drivers,” Mathai said. “So people like me who are serving tables are now in the car running our own deliveries.”

Back at Bon Ton’s, Barbo says the only reason she believes her restaurant will be in business when this is over is that she owns her own building. She tells me she plans to offer all her current staff their jobs back as soon as money starts coming in again.

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