Just got to stay positive and look forward’

Boulder County restaurateurs share thoughts on the future

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Waterloo

Well, the time line keeps shifting for restaurants to reopen in Colorado amid coronavirus-related safety measures. As restaurants continue to lose revenue, despite switching to takeout/delivery platforms, and as restaurant employees continue to stay home without a paycheck, Gov. Jared Polis’ projection of mid-May to reopen restaurants now looks an awful lot like June. Let’s hope not longer.

As Phil Dumontet, cofounder of Boulder’s Whole Sol, says, “It will be a ‘more open’ versus a ‘reopen,’ we think. We hope to see progress in terms of restaurants being ‘more open’ in the next 45-60 days, with social distancing and special precautions in place.”

This is a tough time to own a restaurant. Some have boarded up windows, while others pivot to permanent new models. It’s an even tougher time to launch a restaurant, as Scratch Kitchen did recently. We checked in with some Boulder County establishments to see how they’ve adapted to the change, and maybe more importantly, how they’re expecting the restaurant business will change in the future.

Josh Karp at Louisville’s Waterloo

“I personally think if we want restaurants to survive, we have to open at 100% and leave it up to our guests to decide if they feel comfortable to dine out,” Karp says. “We are taking all necessary precautions to provide a safe environment. We know these times are uncertain, but we will continue to do our part in making sure our staff is healthy and we are following all guidelines

Waterloo has switched to a pickup/delivery platform and has been able to stay afloat thus far, buoyed by the ability to sell prepared cocktail kits, wine and beer.

Karp is hopeful for a full recovery soon.

“My hope is to open at 100% with full staff, ready to have a busy remainder of the summer. The goal is to be able to continue to be a staple watering hole in the community and to provide a fun, safe atmosphere for our loyal guests,” he says.

Eric Patzke at Boulder’s The Hungry Toad

“As everyone knows, this is a very challenging time,” Patzke says. “I think many of us in the industry are hanging by a thread right now. Some more than others for sure.”

The Hungry Toad has been offering curbside pickup since March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day, usually the bar and grill’s busiest day of the year), but Patzke says he’s concerned that there hasn’t been enough governmental support for restaurants.

“Governor Polis has done a fantastic job staying connected with all of us, but I do think some restaurants may not make it,” he says. “It’s a shame restaurants never got the support they needed through a stimulus package, but we need to look forward and stay positive.”

Patzke says The Hungry Toad is considering a reservation-only model and increased spacing between tables to accommodate social distancing when reopening is allowed, as well as timed seatings “which is very British, so it’ll be on point with our brand,” he says.

Nick Busey at Nederland’s Busey Brews

“We are in Nederland, so we have a lot of houses ‘nearby’ that can be a bit of a drive,” Busey says. In response, Busey Brews started a delivery program in which it visits a different community each day to drop-off orders — Magnolia Mondays and Taggerts Tuesdays, for instance.

It’s the first time food delivery has been offered in some of these communities, Busey says, and the feedback has been “tremendous.”

To accommodate social distancing protocols, Busey Brews is rearranging tables and building dividers to ensure safety. Still, Busey says he’s hoping to get some more relief from the state or federal government.

Mazhar Ali at Louisville’s Taj Mahal 3 and Boulder’s Jaipur

Ali says the forecasts are similar for both Taj Mahal III and Jaipur, although the latter’s downtown Boulder location, which has historically been advantageous, could present some challenges. 

“We are unsure of the summer season,” he says. “The atmosphere that Boulder summer usually brings has changed.”

Ali says business at both restaurants — which have switched to carryout only — will “remain somewhat the same … even after reopening is allowed,” citing fear in the community of COVID-19 still looming. He says both restaurants might have to cease offering their coveted buffets as a result.

Michael Joseph of Boulder’s Scratch Kitchen 

Scratch Kitchen is in a unique position. It launched in Boulder during a pandemic, but it also was always going to have a delivery and takeout-only concept. That means Scratch Kitchen hasn’t had to pivot its business model, but the team has had to make adjustments, Joseph says, like heightened employee screening, procuring personal protective equipment — which Joseph says “is not a trivial cost” — and building software to handle curbside pickups.

Throw in the challenge of marketing a new business during this chaotic time, and it’s clear the launch hasn’t been easy.

“We are in a different situation here, and it’s important that we figure out how to successfully market in a COVID world,” Joseph says. 

Scratch Kitchen has added more offerings to its menu of items to pickup, including organic eggs, milk, gelato, cheese and toilet paper, in order to get more people into its customer base.

Phil Dumontet at Boulder’s Whole Sol

Whole Sol, an organic juice bar that also offers clean-eating and flavor-forward bowls, has brought in a wider audience to offset the impacts of locals not coming into the restaurant.

In addition to its local delivery and takeout offerings, Dumontet says Whole Sol is shipping a specially curated “immunity pack” of 12 organic juices, cold-pressed in Boulder, across the country. The program has been a success, and Dumontet says Whole Sol will start shipping out protein bites and chia pudding.

Brice Young at Louisville’s Precision Pours

“I have literally posted my personal number all over the place to encourage people to call ahead and do curbside,” says Young. Curbside pickup is a challenge he first underestimated — reducing staff hours 50% means fewer people to fill those orders, which come in sporadically even as 40-60% of the customer base has been lost.

Precision Pours has switched from primarily selling “pretty rosettas and tulips in your coffee for pretty Instagram posts,” to “more extraordinary coffee beans for at-home brewing and breads for at-home sandwiches and toasts.”

And on the charge that more people and more agencies need to do better to support restaurants, Young puts it well: “Small businesses need your support now more than ever. Please consider spending your money on to-go orders from restaurants and cafes that you already know don’t do well in a regular economy. Support people who weren’t fortunate enough to receive grant money from the local government (like us) or federal authorities. For all the good the community has done through this pandemic, there are also a lot of not-so-good decisions about money and the economy, and I hope the big boys continue to give back their stimuli in order to strengthen the future economy. Trust the mom and pops locations unless you want a bunch of corporate crap for the next generation of Americans.”