COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — When Elvin Garcia and Carlos Rodriguez were preparing to open Havana Grill, they sampled eleven different cuts of meat before finding the perfect skirt steak for their famous Churrasco. The dish remains their most popular seller.
"Even after COVID shut down, we were going through a thousand a month," Rodriguez said.
Garcia joked, "I gotta stay away from it because, if not I'm gonna blow up."
The family-owned Cuban restaurant first opened in 2018 at a smaller location near South Academy and Astrozon. Their family karaoke night promotion proved to be so popular that they had to turn people away. So, the business partners looked for a bigger space, finally finding their current location a few miles to the north on Academy Place, at roughly the midpoint between Constitution and Maizeland.
The former nightclub has a stage and dance floor, billiards tables, and video arcade games. They opened in December of 2019. Three months later COVID hit.
"Right when we were getting steam they just came and went whiff," Garcia said making a sweeping gesture. "The worst part that hit me the most was having to lay off everybody."
Like many restaurants in Colorado, they've gone through the ups and downs of the various levels of restrictions under the COVID Dial. They've added a tent in the parking lot and focused on boosting carryout and delivery orders. Rodriguez said the PPP loan the business received was forgiven and they've since been able to hire back some of their staff.
"There's a lot of people that have had it worse, and I really feel for them," he said. "But we're making it work. We're people that, you know, we're hard workers."
The Colorado Restaurant Foundation is looking to help eateries like Havana Grill through a new grant program that was just announced Wednesday.
"The restaurant industry, in general, has been disproportionately impacted by this crisis, and within that, the Black-owned restaurant community has been further impacted," said Laura Shrunk, President of the CRF.
Grant recipients can give customers who spend at least $25 a thank you gift card worth $25 in hopes of generating return business.
"We've run a program like this prior and the feedback from the restaurants during that was, this is a real shot in the arm, it brought people in, it brought sort of the liveliness back out," Shrunk said.
She explained eligibility for the program applies to every restaurant where at least one owner is Black, no minimum percentage of ownership is required.
"That sounds great right there because, you spend $25 and I give you a $25 gift certificate, you'll be like, oh yeah, I'm coming back," Garcia said.
The application deadline is Friday, March 4. Shrunk wants to help get the word out so more businesses can apply.
Visit https://DineOutToHelpOut.com/ozo-grant to fill out and submit an application. Only 20 businesses will be selected. Shrunk hopes to announce the grant recipients in mid-March.