As businesses around North Denver tiptoe into the great unknown, grand reopenings are being planned for a summer that resembles nothing normal. Dave Query, Owner and Chef of Big Red F Restaurant group including neighborhood favorites, Lola Coastal Mexican and West End Tavern said, “I can’t stand the term ‘new normal’. There is nothing normal about this, only new.” The low margin food and beverage industry has been one of the hardest hit. Restaurants and bars (plus scores of employees) that’ve been brought to their knees have spent the last two months trying to reinvent themselves with take out and delivery services, Zoom Happy Hours and special cocktails to-go that have put a bandaid on a wound that requires a tourniquet. The success of some of these concepts will undoubtedly carry into the Post-Covid future that has no standard blueprint to follow.
With no set date for reopenings, diminished seating capacity requirements, and a skittish public that may or may not want to venture out, restaurateurs are turning to delivery and take out as the only means of revenue. Juan Padro from Highland Tap and Burger noted that businesses who have relied on delivery services have seen 12% increases during the closure. Justin Cucci, owner of the powerhouse Edible Beats (Linger, Root Down, el Five, Vital Root and Ophelia’s) reflects, “We need to reinvent ourselves during this transition. We are seeking ways to create an experience through our delivery service that brings the passion of our restaurants into people’s homes.” One of LoHi’s newest eateries, The Dimestore Delibar, a cross between a restaurant, bar, takeaway charcuterie and local Bodega convenience store offers guests a chance to grab and go Chef Dotson’s signature Dimeroll deli sandwich plus a package of Tide in person, delivered curbside or at home. The Bindery has run a strong email marketing campaign to encourage curbside pickup and memorable meals. On Cinco de Mayo Chef Linda Hampsten Fox created a curbside grill featuring Baja style tacos and margaritas to go.
The Family Jones Spirit House has searched for ways to bring vibrancy and hope to the Lower Highland community, too. The distillery has created hand sanitizer from its alcohol to donate to homeless shelters. It has held Zoom Cocktail Parties hosted by bartender, Nick Touch and distillery master, Rob Masters, that teaches the art of the pour with pre-ordered cocktail kits. They celebrated Mother’s Day with special packages featuring cocktails and food, as well as gifts and flowers in collaboration with local business partners like Honeycomb & Co., Sacred Thistle and Symmetry 360 Massage.
Other notables from the Highlands and Berkeley like Fire on the Mountain, Himchuli, Post Oak Barbecue, Parisi and Billy’s Inn have fine tuned their take-away approach with long, socially distanced lines outside clamoring for something that doesn’t resemble leftovers. FOTM owner, Andrea West, acknowledged North Denver for its loyalty, “Fire on the Mountain is grateful for the incredible outpouring of support from our community. We’ve stayed busy with curbside pickup and delivery, especially with the added bonus of to go cocktails! We were super fortunate to receive stimulus funding relatively early on, and since then we have been able to bring almost all of our hard-working staff back on board. We plan to continue this model for the foreseeable future for the safety of our employees and guests.”
When Little Man Ice Cream shuttered its doors in mid March, voices rang out on Facebook and Instagram, “How can you close? Ice cream is essential.” (Luckily for Northsiders, Sweet Cow remained open.) To bring a little joy for the pent up demand, Little Man featured several pop-up events at rotating locations that pre-sold pint packs and ice cream sandwiches online. The response was overwhelmingly positive. As summer approaches the ice cream emporium is planning its comeback. New approaches to selling more grab-and-go pints, creating safe distancing practices in its infamous lines, no seating, and stringent sanitization, mask and glove policy for its staff are amongst some of the plans being developed. Community events that have brought hundreds of people together weekly to share a scoop and a movie or swing dance, are being reimagined. The company is looking at everything from a virtual summer camp, to online jam sessions supporting local musicians, to a “Saturday Sofa Swing” that keeps the rock-step going with Kenny Nelson’s Swingin’ Denver providing virtual dance lessons at home. As owner, Paul Tamburello puts it, “So much of the Little Man experience is about building community. Whether it is on our plaza or in our guest’s home, as we come back it’s all about the love.”
A myriad of other ideas are being test-driven for business longevity. Northside native, Loren Martinez, owns Adrift Tiki Bar and Restaurant. His team led by Josh Duncan created a special collection of Tiki Cocktails and DIY Spam Musubi Kits that bring the tropics right to guests’ doorsteps. Martinez has been thrilled with the results, in particular because “100% of the profits have gone back to our staff to help them through this difficult time. We are grateful for the legal extension of cocktail deliveries in the coming month which has helped keep us afloat.”
A local development in the Chaffee Park/Regis neighborhood, Zuni Plaza (49th and Zuni), is creating a pop-up truck stop on Tuesday and Friday featuring food trucks with sweet, savory and cocktail components for pick-up. Project Manager, Rene Doubleday noted, “This is an opportunity to test drive a proof of concept for going forward that brings a much needed service to the neighborhood.”
Covid-19 has forever changed our world, but it has also showcased resilience and creativity. While our community has been separated, it has oddly become closer. We share a common learning curve that allows no complacency, but instead a chance to grow and learn from one another. It’s time we all don our masks and forge the path to our reimagined future. Be safe out there and show your Northside Pride by helping local businesses survive. Bon Appetit!