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Durango restaurants endure COVID-19 restrictions

Health orders to limit public gatherings hit eateries in pocketbook
The city of Durango allowed bump-outs for Main Avenue restaurants during the warm months of 2020. The outdoor patios provided just enough margin to help hard-pressed restaurants stay open when indoor dining was restricted under public health orders to limit transmission of COVID-19.

The novel coronavirus left its mark on Durango’s restaurant scene with the loss of the Red Snapper, The Palace Restaurant, Irish Embassy Pub, Eno Cocktail Lounge and Wine Bar, and Kassidy’s Kitchen.

The Subway on U.S. Highway 160 closed. Vallecito lost Pura Vida Cafe.

Perhaps it is surprising the list wasn’t longer.

Restaurants were forced to close temporarily and then asked to operate at 25% to 50% of indoor capacity when they reopened. They’re still limited to 50% capacity.

Restaurants began going dark in mid-March 2020, and most stayed dark into June. A fresh round of closures came in November, and some are now just emerging from their November dormancy.

James Allred, owner and general manager of Eolus Bar & Dining, reopened his fine-dining establishment Tuesday after going dormant in October. It is open from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday.

Carver Brewing Co. reopened Wednesday, and the College Drive Cafe plans to reopen later this month.

“I was reading some restaurants in New York were just calling it hibernating. So I kind of view it like that,” Allred said. “We were just taking a rest and going to look forward to reopening ideally for the spring and the rest of the year.”

Initially, Allred planned to close Eolus for only November. However, the spike in the novel coronavirus placed further restrictions on restaurants, and he extended the hibernation.

About 95% of his staff members will return to work.

Eolus, like most Durango restaurants, also received loans under the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.

Two rounds of the federal PPP kept restaurants afloat. The loans are forgivable if 60% of proceeds were spent to keep employees on the job.

Allred hopes vaccines and warm weather will flatten the roller-coaster ride of forced closures and operational restrictions.

Bump-outs, outdoor patios placed in the parking right of way adjacent to restaurants, gave restaurants, which typically operate on 5% to 10% profit margins, enough breathing room to remain open.

One Durango restaurateur, Jerry Martinez, co-owner of CJ’s Diner, has sued Gov. Jared Polis, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and San Juan Basin Public Health, claiming the public health orders that crushed restaurant business in 2020 were unconstitutional.

The lawsuit came after CJ’s was ordered to shut down by the CDPHE after it had remained open during Level Red restrictions.

Martinez told The Durango Herald in December: “It looks like this, the judicial side, to say that authorities have overreached, is the only way for us to be able to go back to work at a volume that makes sense. We’re probably down, probably about 50%. The reality of it is anybody who knows anything about a business knows it cannot operate on 25%. It just doesn’t work. We feel like even if we’re running at 100% we’re hoping we’ll be able to make it in Durango.”

parmijo@durangoherald.com

Oct 20, 2021
Bigger, better and safer: Bump-outs make return to Durango’s Main Avenue
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