Dave Woodruff has kept a lot plates safely spinning in the air since the arrival of the coronavirus in March.
Imagine your schedule if you were the go-to person representing Durango’s restaurants in 2020 – Woodruff is president of the Durango chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association, a position he’s held for the past five years.
On top of those duties, family life for Woodruff, who met his wife, Stephanie, while he was working at Steamworks Brewing Co., includes parenting duties for his children, Mason, 6, and Finnlay, 4.
His day job is general manager at El Moro Spirits and Tavern, and that fills in any vacant spots his calendar might have.
“Dave’s done an amazing job sending out weekly communication to the restaurant community that tells us: ‘OK, here’s where we are now, here’s what’s happening, here’s what’s coming. And I’ll update you as soon as I know more,’” said Ed Kileen, co-owner and chief financial officer for Grassburger.
Kileen said the communications job Woodruff has conducted since the arrival of COVID-19 not only provides tangible practical benefits to restaurants stressed by COVID-19 but just as importantly keeps morale up.
“He’s really responsible for helping all of us keep a positive attitude. Even in the darkest times, he was communicating, explaining the first round of PPP,” Kileen said. “He was always saying, ‘Reach out to me if you have any questions or if there’s anything I can do to help you.’”
Woodruff credits the five years he served as president of the local restaurant association with strengthening his communication and organizational skills.
“I’ve been able to build up my communications network, and I didn’t really think about it a whole lot before the pandemic,” he said. “But it allowed me to constantly get a stream of information, funnel it, filter it and figure out what is relevant for restaurants and then figure out how to best disseminate it.”
Woodruff said serving as the point person to translate COVID-19 public health restrictions and rules for Durango’s restaurants provided him with some “reciprocity” because that was valuable to El Moro and the other Peak Food and Beverage operations, Steamworks and Bird’s
But Durango’s restaurant operators are a close-knit bunch, and while they are competitors, it is a friendly competition.
“My goal was to keep as many restaurants open as possible through this,” Woodruff said. “I was able to help out my own business through that information gathering. But as we all know, Durango is known for its culinary vibrancy, and I didn’t want to lose that.
“Even my own business, El Moro, we don’t win if we have a bunch of restaurants shut down. These are my community members, and I want to see them survive just as much as they want to see me survive,” he said.
The fact that Durango has lost The Palace, the Irish Embassy Pub, the Red Snapper, Eno Wine Bar and Cocktail Lounge, Kassidy’s Kitchen and others is painful not only to the individual businesses but to the community as a whole.
“It’s a tragedy because these are people in our community. They’re contributing to our community via employing people paying their taxes, nourishing the community,” he said. “When you start compounding that by five or six or seven restaurants, you’re talking about a lot of people who are no longer getting a paycheck.”
Woodruff sees “a very small light” at the end of the dark tunnel with spring coming, and the development of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“While things are grim, you know, 25% (capacity) is not great. I’m not gonna lie, but at the same time, it’s better than zero, and it looks like we’ll get across the finish line,” he said. “We’ll be beat up and bloody and limping. But we’ll get across the finish line, and, hopefully, we’ll be able to operate at full capacity, once again.”
Woodruff’s commitment to restaurants comes because the industry has given him a lot.
“I started at Steamworks as a bouncer and a busser, and I walked out of there with a family,” he said. “I’ve been here for the last 15 years, and Durango has really given me a sense of pride and ownership. Being a part of this community, I see part of what I’m doing as giving back to a community that’s literally given me so much.”
Kileen said Woodruff’s dedication to Durango and its restaurants has not gone unnoticed among his peers.
“You know, Dave is serving in an unpaid volunteer position,” Kileen said. “He’s got a full-time gig, he’s got a family, he’s a father. He’s got a full life. So it was really something that he’s helping us in the restaurant community make it through a really dark time, a really uncertain time – especially when you look at March, April, May of 2020, when nobody knew what was coming.”