DENVER (CBS4) – Restaurants offering a take-home Thanksgiving meal prepared for weeks to have the supplies necessary to sell those dinners as way to stay open and keep busy. But when Denver and Colorado officials announced changes to the restrictions for restaurants in some areas, including eliminating indoor dining, the option became even more important to supporting their businesses and will be a model for the months ahead.
“You’re learning to live with what was available to you and you’re learning to live within this space that was 25 percent,” said Frank Bonnano, restaurateur and the owner of Bonnano Concepts. “Giving people what our experience is and enabling them to experience that at home.”
Capacity was reduced to 25% before the level “Red” restrictions take effect on Friday, prohibiting indoor dining in places like Denver County. For Bonanno, to-go food was not a model he focused on but he has improved their options over the past six months during the pandemic.
“We almost laughed at you if you asked us for to-go food at Luca and now I believe they’re doing more to-go food than any other restaurant in our group,” he told CBS4 on a video conference call. “I would shut liquor stores down … and I would let the restaurants sell liquor with food.”
Bonanno says that if most of the spread is happening in private gatherings where liquor is consumed, he wants to see restrictions on those stores so restaurants can pickup more business by selling alcohol along with food. He worries that his industry is only causing a fraction of the spread but is paying a higher price in restrictions.
“Let’s face it, the liquor stores have had a great run for past nine months during this whole thing,” he said. “This is going to be the end of 50% of restaurants, I mean I’m not kidding, this afternoon we’re discussing which restaurants do we just close for good, that is the harsh reality of yesterday’s announcement.”
Selling food that can be cooked at home or providing more options that can be ordered to-go will be model to stay in the months ahead. Not just for this holiday but the ones still to come this year and into 2021. Those new to the concept and those who have always offered it say it’s an essential way to keep staff employed and restaurants open.
“It’s definitely part of being a chef is kind of get creative and being flexible with everything that’s going on,” said Thach Tran, executive chef at Ace Eat Serve. “It’s just a little bit of adjustment but it’s still great quality food but you can get it at home.”
His restaurant serves a Peking Duck twice a week for dine-in customers but now they’re offering a prepared bird you can roast at home for Thanksgiving. This builds on the many options they offer for “Ace At Home” curries as well as batch cocktails that can be picked up at the restaurant. The Uptown location also has a large patio and has mild weather continues into November, they will still host guests outside even as indoor seating is no longer allowed.
“You still have beautiful days out, we’re very fortunate we have a very big patio,” Tran told CBS4. “Definitely feeling optimistic, you know, we’re staying busy for sure.”
Ace Eat Serve plans to offer its holiday duck option beyond Thanksgiving, you can even gift it to others with their “Golden Ticket” option. Other popular restaurants offering options for people to take home include Brother’s BBQ and Root Down in Denver.
“You’re trying to always evolve and trying to find new sources for your products to package in, that would be one of the biggest challenges we’ve had,” Bonnano said. “It’s the way we’re cooking that’s really changed it for us.”
Finding the right container is a weekly challenge for restaurants as they have to deal with supply issues once they identify which one best preserves their food while it travels. Even how they prepare the dish has to be modified, including adding more sauce to pasta so it doesn’t dry out before someone eats it at home. He worries that outdoor dining will be taken away next so the focus has to remain on takeout. He is even thinking about what he could do for Valentine’s Day in 2021.
“Those are all of things we’ve been learning and practicing and trying and taking home,” Bonanno added. “We’re excited to get through this next week and then you know, we’ll regroup and figure out what we’re going to do.”