COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado — Colorado Governor Jared Polis is looking beyond the pandemic and listening to local business owners about their needs as the state looks to rebound. After visiting the mass vaccination clinic at the Broadmoor World Arena Wednesday morning, Mr. Polis had lunch at El Taco and La Arepa, a Mexican and Venezuelan Grill where he met with small business owners from the city's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Owners Ivan Torres and his wife Maria are immigrants from Mexico and Venezuela respectively. They met while he was playing baseball in the Latin American Leagues. Their love of mixing and sharing cuisines from their home countries sparked the idea for the restaurant.
They opened in December of 2019, just months before the pandemic hit. Torres said when he took the announcing that the governor was planning to come for lunch, he thought it was a prank.
"I talked with my wife and said, do you think this is possible or maybe somebody just called to make a joke," he said.
It was real, and the governor came ready to eat.
"First of all, I'm trying some delicious Venezuelan cuisine," he said as he was getting out of the car.
Mr. Polis explained that greater numbers of people will be eligible to receive COVID vaccines starting Friday.
"It'll be open to everybody in early April, we'll have that exact date soon based on vaccine supply, but everybody 50 and up or anybody who's 49 and under with a pre-existing condition can get it at world arena, can get it at their local pharmacy, can get it at UCHealth," he said.
However, vaccines are just the start of a recovery. Mr. Polis explained that he wants to better understand the needs of business owners moving forward.
"This is all going to be about our economic recovery, how do we reduce the burden on businesses to bounce back, " Polis said.
One of the small business owners to meet with the governor during lunch was Loli Villareal. Her husband owns the restaurant Hacienda Villareal and she recently began importing hand-crafted goods from Mexico which are also sold at the restaurant.
"We're very fortunate because in this state, and this city we have a governor who is concerned with us as Latinos and who wants to help our small businesses," Villareal said.
Moni Hernandez, the Vice-Chair of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, recently opened a bi-lingual marketing business that helps Spanish-speaking business owners to improve their digital presence. She was also pleased to have the governor take an interest in her needs.
"He was able to show that he is interested in small businesses and I think that is a big deal because small businesses through the pandemic have gone through so much in the past year," she said.
Just before lunch, the governor stopped to visit Kinship Landing, a new downtown boutique hotel that opened in January. Like the bar and restaurant industry, hotels and events have also suffered during the pandemic.
"It opened up just two months ago, so they opened up right in the midst of this, they're actually doing pretty well." Mr. Polis said.
He said he's looking travel restriction being lifted so that more international visitors can resume trips to Southern Colorado.
Torres said he was honored to serve the governor and relished having such a famous customer.
"No matter what happens with the business, we have a history to share with my daughter," he said.