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Takeout-only to return; beginning Friday, in-person dining is out in La Plata County

Restaurants, gyms: New limits will make it tough to keep doors open
Mike Hurst, manager at El Moro, hands a to-go order to Candace Nadon on Tuesday at the restaurant on Main Avenue. On Friday, restaurants in La Plata County will be required to offer only takeout service in an attempt to lower the spike in COVID-19 transmissions.

Steamworks Brewing Co. and its sister restaurants under Peak Food & Beverage proved prescient moving to all takeout delivery Monday. On Friday, they will be followed by the rest of the county’s restaurants.

At the end of the week, La Plata County moves to Safer at Home Level Red, which requires all restaurants to close in-person dining – limiting sales to takeout and delivery only in an effort to reduce transmission rates of COVID-19.

Karen Barger, owner of Seasons, said restaurateurs had heard new restrictions were coming, but she believed they would come Monday.

Key to dealing with the changing currents of the COVID-19 storm, she said, has been planning. The restaurant’s management team meets at least twice a week so it’s quickly able to pivot to handle changing requirements.

“We have to be prepared for whatever that next step might be,” she said. “We can adapt within a day. If we’re ordered to go to takeout only, we’ll be ready.”

But the change won’t come without pain.

“It will certainly cut profitability, and probably employment as well,” she said.

Ralph Devera, left, sous chef, and Jesse Brunett, chef of El Moro, make Mafalda pasta on Tuesday. The restaurant is including the dish in its new “El Moro Market and Provisions” takeout menu.

Given the restrictions, including cutting off alcohol sales at 8 p.m., the only way Seasons can remain open is to go down to two-person shifts, a general manager and Barger, and that would force Seasons to furlough about 30 employees.

“That would be the only way for me to continue to even think about being able to survive, if you add up all the salaries and $30,000 a month just as an occupancy cost,” she said.

In March, when the severest early restrictions hit, federal aid in the form of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act was quickly passed. Now, Barger said of Washington’s political scene, “They’re not even talking to each other.”

Tracie Holcomb, owner of Crossfit Catacombs, was facing a similar grim business picture: The Level Red restrictions reduce capacity in gyms and fitness businesses to 10%.

“We’re already having issues with capacity at 25%. To go to 10% will make staying open very challenging,” she said. “My hope is that we can continue to do some things outside as long as the weather holds up. But effectively it’s a shutdown for us again. We’re resourceful. We’ll land on our feet. That’s what we do. But yes, it’s not easy to run a business at 10% capacity.”

Sarah Hess, manager at El Moro, takes a phone order Tuesday.

Massive corporations offer online fitness programs, and it doesn’t make sense for Catacombs to compete in that market, but the business did begin offering free virtual classes to members this week.

Holcomb said the free classes help build loyalty among Catacombs members.

“When we start rebuilding again – people are loyal – and they remember what you do for them,” she said. “That’s how we approach it, and when we start to open back up again, people will remember what we did for them.”

Holcomb said she was headed to the drawing board to “figure out how we can reinvent ourselves again.”

Will Thomas, owner of Durango Sports Club, said he wanted to watch the governor’s news conference before commenting in detail about the new restrictions.

But he echoed other business owners about the difficulties the new limits will create.

Of the 10% capacity limit, he said: “That will be brutal on us. We had just started showing some signs of at least stabilizing and finding a floor, really.”

Peak Food & Beverage, which operates Steamworks Brewing Co., El Moro and Bird’s, decided Monday to move to takeout only when occupancy limits in restaurants were moved down to 25% from 50%.

“There’s a whole myriad of factors when you go down to 25% capacity that just makes it really hard to make money,” said Kris Oyler, Peak Food Beverage CEO. “The average profitable restaurant takes something like 4% off the bottom line. So it’s a volume game, you have to have full dining rooms to make it financially viable.”

Dave Woodruff, manager of El Moro and president of the Durango chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association, said it is difficult to say when Peak’s restaurants will return to in-person dining, but it will likely come only when transmission rates decline in La Plata County.

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A list of restaurants offering takeout food will again be revitalized by the Durango chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association, and it will be posted on the Durango Chamber of Commerce website as well as several other economic development agencies’ websites, Woodruff said.

John Daly, owner of Primus, said takeout-only is particularly problematic in the fine dining niche.

“We don’t just serve food. We sell an experience, the music, the art on the walls, the ambiance along with the entrees. You don’t get the same experience with takeout,” he said.

Mike Hurst, manager at El Moro, hands a to-go order to Candace Nadon on Tuesday.

Daly said businesses are professional enough to be vigilant in guarding against the novel coronavirus while still operating, and he suggested that a better path than restrictions would be trust businesses to handle the situation.

“They should realize that letting us police our operations – we wear masks, we follow strict sanitizing procedures, our staff is tested regularly – is something that would be safe and viable,” he said. “We provide a safe environment as opposed to, in my mind, having people drive over to other people’s houses where I don’t know if all those precautions are going to be taken.”


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