Page 18 — Retail Properties Quarterly — February 2021 I t is common knowledge that this pandemic has had devas- tating effects on the Denver restaurant industry. Even as I write this, Denver County remains on level orange, meaning that restaurants can only have up to 25% capacity for indoor dining and must stop alcohol sales by 10 p.m. Despite these ongoing changes, as the vaccine begins widespread roll- outs, we can look at the silver linings the last year brought to the Denver restaurant industry as it changes toward a post-pandemic future. This pandemic has forced surviv- ing restaurants to be creative and innovative in a multitude of ways. Even before the COVID-19 era, the Denver restaurant market was satu- rated with competition among res- taurateurs for well-located sites in addition to massive build-out costs. Denver dining sat atop a bubble. To make it through the pandemic, the Denver restaurant industry needed to adapt. Restaurants that adapted to third-party delivery ser- vices and takeout business led the charge as restaurateurs needed to provide quality food that created an exceptional to-go experience for the customer. A more efficient online ordering system, along with the raw quality of the food being provided, is how these restaurants were able to stay afloat during these difficult times. Another notable benefactor to res- taurants’ livelihood during this time have been the rise of ghost kitchens. The idea of a professional food prep- aration and cooking facility set up for delivery-only meals has excelled since the start of the pandemic. Additionally, res- tauranteurs have found creative ways to utilize their patio or out- door space while respecting COVID- 19 protocols. Many restaurants utilized tents and igloos as the weather got colder and these new, unique expe- riences ended up attracting customers while giving them the confidence that they are in a safe dining environment. These creative innovations were necessi- tated by the pandemic, but likely will remain for the foreseeable future in the restaurant industry. Streamlined point of sale both online and in restaurants are inno- vations that Kevin Brown, managing partner of Via Baci, believes are here to stay. Peter Newlin, CEO of Birdcall, believes that these changes were inevitably going to happen at some point in the future and the pandem- ic simply accelerated the process to adapt to the customer of the future. “To get through this pandemic, res- taurants are going to have to adapt … it is about keeping a positive atti- tude and making adjustments daily … (a restaurant) cannot force their way through a pandemic,” said New- lin. A heightened sense of community is yet another silver lining that has come out of this pandemic. Although the reviews vary, the majority of restaurant owners deemed the Paycheck Protection Program loans incredibly helpful to get through the difficult times. But from a more inti- mate standpoint, the shared hard- ships brought on by the pandemic sparked a whole movement of sup- porting local business, which in turn helped keep many of these neigh- borhood restaurants open. These restaurants felt that support and many of them decided to give back as well. Newlin, along with his part- ners at Birdcall and help from The Tuchman Family Foundation & TTEC Holdings, started Fuel Hope Kitchen. The mission statement of Fuel Hope Kitchen is “Delivering meals to front- line heroes working at hospitals in remote regions of Colorado – from the Pawnee National Grassland to the Rio Grande National Forest.” Through this foundation, over 106,000 meals have been delivered to health care workers with a goal of delivering an additional 200,000 meals. In turn, this has put restau- rant workers back in uniform, with over 10,000 hours worked to provide these meals to first responders in the health care system. As we look toward the future, there is a sense of optimism in the Denver restaurant industry. It is no secret that consumers are itching to have the restaurant experience again. We saw that this summer before the second shutdown, as people con- sistently filled restaurants and bars to the permitted capacity. As of the past month, an increasing number of restaurant tenants have been touring potential spaces with the anticipation of a “restaurant rush” coming right as their build-out is complete. Quite a few of the safety protocols will stick around for the foreseeable future: thorough saniti- zation of tables and chairs between each use, masks being utilized in the common areas, socially distanced seating and the city allowing make- shift outdoor dining spaces. There is a lot of hope on the hori- zon for the Denver restaurant indus- try. An optimistic outlook, embracing the importance of community and remaining innovative will be the cornerstones for success in Denver restaurants as the world shifts into a post-pandemic era. s A few silver linings for Denver’s restaurant industry ...and much more! 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