By Makenzie O'Keefe

DENVER (CBS4) – As restaurants across the state continue to face new challenges while reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of Denver is asking the state to increase restaurant capacity guidelines.

“We have already filed a comprehensive variance request,” Ryan Luby, with the City Attorney’s Office wrote in an e-mail to CBS4’s Makenzie O’Keefe. “We asked the state to allow restaurants to operate on-premise dining at 50-percent occupancy or 175 persons, whichever is less.”

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Right now, the state requires restaurants to keep in-restaurant dining to 50% capacity or 50 people. To help with capacity limits, the city also recently launched a temporary patio expansion program that would allow restaurants to expand their outdoor seating for more customers.

Blake Street Tavern is one of 527 restaurants that have applied for the program. Restaurant owner Chris Fuselier said they were given the green light to turn their parking lot into a space for customers to eat.

“We’re in the beer garden business now,” Fuselier said. “It’s all about outdoor dining. And if you think about most Colorado evenings, they’re just so picture perfect.”

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However, that wasn’t the case for the big opening of their beer garden on Saturday. Storms with high winds and rain brought unexpected challenges to the new setup.

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“We had to take the canopies off because first day we opened, we had this tremendous wind storm,” he said. “And we broke two tents, broke two umbrellas.”

Fuselier said the storm brought up new challenges to the already-struggling industry. With a cap of 50 people inside his restaurant that would normally seat 900, he has nowhere to put patio customers if inclement weather hits.

“If we’re already at capacity inside, what do I do with the 140 people out here?” he said. “We can ask them to go to their car, but a lot of people take Uber and Lyft down here.”

Fuselier said the city of Denver submitting a variance to expand indoor capacity would help this issue.

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“If that gets granted by the state, then we can bring all of the people outside, inside to stay dry,” he said. “With COVID, then we dealt with closing early on curfew days, then the weather, it’s like we just can’t catch a break.”

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The city said 44 of the 527 restaurants have been approved under its new program. A majority, 61% of the applicants, are currently under review, or the city is working with the restaurant on documents to complete the request.

Makenzie O'Keefe