Jan 5, 2022 - Food and Drink

What's next: Food for thought on Denver's dining scene

Noble Fry-It Denver Colorado

Noble Riot, a RiNo wine bar, changed its business model to become Noble Fry-it, a fried chicken pickup/delivery business in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Helen H. Richardson/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

After COVID-induced shutdowns, repeated regulatory changes, labor shortages and supply chain challenges, restaurant owners, operators and workers — along with the patrons they serve — are left to wonder what 2022 has in store.

What to watch: Denver's dining world continues to display resilience and fierce creativity, but its players anticipate menu price hikes, continued staffing problems and a delayed return to any semblance of normal as they embark on year three of the global pandemic.

  • Despite the chaos and confusion, local food and drink purveyors maintained their hopeful, albeit cautious, tenor as they shared their plans and forecasts for the year ahead.

What they're saying:

  • "Across the board, we will see higher menu prices for food," Paul Reilly, chef and co-owner of Coperta and LoDo's newly opened Apple Blossom, told Food & Wine Magazine.
    • He also anticipates a "return to super high-end dining and really inventive cuisine" in the wake of the pandemic.
    • Reilly cited previous periods of unrest, like 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, after which diners were "willing to go out and spend more and gather together around a more formal dining experience."
  • His sister and business partner, Aileen Reilly, told Axios that restaurants are "moving toward shrinking the wage gap," as Colorado's hourly minimum wage increased to $12.56 per hour on Jan. 1, and the industry steadily moves away from a traditional tipping model.
  • "Supporting the local food movement will not only be a trend, but a necessity due to the disruption of the supply chain ... I think we'll start to see a lot of new purveyors popping up and producing specialty ingredients," Cody Cheetham, executive chef of Tavernetta, told Food & Wine.
  • "I think 2022 is the year of vegetables — or just healthy eating in general," predicted chef Jeff Osaka, owner of Sushi-Rama and other eateries, in a chat with 5280 magazine.
    • Rob Hurd of Boulder's Frasca doubled down, telling Food & Wine: "Whether it's a flexitarian diet or all-in on plant-based, I think people will be more mindful of eating more and better quality veggies."
  • Annette's Caroline Glover noted to the magazine that recent "shocks have revealed how fragile our global supply chain is, and they've driven home the importance of doing right by your local farmers, bakers, butchers and cheesemakers."
    • She added that "cutting back on some service, bowing out of some events and generally saying 'adios' to anything superfluous..." were possible sacrifices for the new year — a statement that came just before Annette announced on Dec. 26 it would slash its Sunday brunch service.

The bottom line: The Omicron variant presents "a frightening reminder that — in what feels like an instant — restaurants can be thrown back into takeout-only operations or closed entirely, through no fault of their own," Colorado Restaurant Association spokesperson Denise Mickelsen told Axios.

  • But "hope" is on "the horizon," she said, urging Coloradans to get vaccinated and boosted against the coronavirus.

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