Jan 10, 2022 - News

Denver restaurants return to hibernation amid COVID-19 surge

A sign saying "Sorry, we're closed" but the O has COVID-19 spikes.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Restaurants and bars in the Denver area are being forced to pivot yet again as the Omicron variant and a labor shortage leave the service industry even more understaffed.

What's happening: Businesses are curtailing their hours, canceling reservations and posting last-minute closures on social media amid the outbreaks. Some, like Owlette Bakery and Third Culture Bakery, have closed for good.

  • Nearly a dozen spots have shuttered or restricted their hours in the past two weeks, Axios has found. They include Hoja, which is now closed two days a week, and Daughter Thai Kitchen and Bar, which is no longer open Tuesdays.
  • Others, like Chook, are no longer allowing in-person dining to ensure the safety of their staff.
  • The bleak statistic is likely an undercount.

Why it matters: Despite the CDC's shortened quarantine guidelines, as little as one exposure could force a small business to close for days.

State of play: Mayors across the country, including Denver's Michael Hancock, are pressing congressional leadership to add money to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund.

  • Restaurants "are hurting, and if they do not receive help soon the impact on our local economies will be catastrophic," Hancock and 19 other mayors wrote Friday in a letter organized by the Independent Restaurant Coalition.
  • "Restaurants and bars are months beyond struggling, they are dying in plain sight."

The intrigue: The mayors say only one-third of restaurants and bars that applied for relief received it, leaving more than 175,000 businesses in limbo.

What they're saying: "This has been a two-year fight, and with no end in sight, it's time for us to circle the wagons," Hoja's team wrote in an Instagram post last week.

  • "To speak honestly, the pandemic broke us down. And we need to recover," staff at Third Culture Bakery wrote on social media.

The big picture: Colorado has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases recently, and while more than 70% of residents over age 5 are fully vaccinated, Omicron has led to an increase in breakthrough cases.

What's next: State epidemiologist Rachel Herilhy said last week that hospitalizations related to the Omicron variant could peak in the next several weeks.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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