DENVER (CBS4) -A new campaign for restaurants in the state is raising funds for furloughed workers. Restaurant owners say since Level Red coronavirus restrictions began, and they lost indoor dining, they have been devastated — and, so far, state and federal funding has not properly addressed their needs. Now, they’ve teamed up with a local artist to create items they can sell to support their employees.

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“This is the month that every restaurant in America works so hard, so they can get through January and February, and it’s been taken out from under us,” said Bobby Stuckey from Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder. “Most parts of the country were closed for the time period that the PPP [loan] was expected to be used.”

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The ongoing call for the Restaurants Act, which was drafted with the help of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, has been reinforced this week with the “Colorado Strong” campaign among local restaurants. Stuckey is part of the leadership of the coalition and has advocated for additional legislation targeted toward this industry.

“It’s been a most transforming and complicated year of my life,” said Andrea Frizzi of Il Posto in Denver. “Discrimination has many faces, I think we’ve been discriminated [against].”

Frizzi has operated a restaurant in the city for more than a decade, including most recently in the RiNo Arts District. He says it is frustrating to see big box retailers have so many people inside while he can only serve a fraction of guests at his restaurant. He is another restauranteur who says the Level Red restrictions have severely hurt his business during a year that has already been such a challenge.

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“This new outdoor dining only restriction is hitting us really hard in the coldest months of the year, it just basically kneecapped Bigsby’s Folly and every other restaurant that I’ve talked to,” said Marla Yetka, the co-founder of the craft winery and restaurant. “We can’t even come close to break even.”

Yetka decided to collaborate with her friend and artist Austin Zucchini-Fowler again on an art project that could support the Angel Relief Fund from the Colorado Restaurant Association. The two worked together on products in the past to support frontline workers and teachers. This time the mural and wine bottles say “Colorado Strong,” along with decals that share words of inspiration.

“It’s kind of my goal as an artist to be a voice of the community and this is the current voice of the community,” Zucchini-Fowler said.

Restaurants like Bigsby’s Folly and Il Posto have furloughed employees since the Level Red restrictions closed indoor dining, owners and managers are taking on several responsibilities, like serving drinks and washing dishes, to help make ends meet.

“A city without small business and restaurants, it will not be a good city,” said Frizzi. “We’re getting deleted, we’re getting deleted. We’re getting annihilated. This is an annihilation of an extraordinary proportion.”

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Yetka says restaurants like her received PPP loans but with the limits on how to use that money, it did not help them in the way they most needed. Stuckey adds that while the program did impact other industries well, it wasn’t enough for restaurants. He says it was an eight-week solution to a problem that could last 18 months for his business. The Restaurants Act would look at the revenue made in 2019 to determine what is needed in 2020.

“This isn’t going to work and the PPP that people are talking about in D.C. will help other businesses but the restaurant industry has a unique set of hurdles that other industries don’t have,” Stuckey told CBS4 on Thursday. “It protects independent restaurants to get us, as a revenue replacement to get us, through to the other side.”

The decals are now on display by 50 different restaurants around town.

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Yetka says she has furloughed 10 of her own employees, a result of the loss of business since the new restrictions. She says they went from 150 bookings to 20 in one day after they had to limit seating to the outdoors.

“It’s in our nature to be positive and when guests come and see us, we don’t want to burden them with our problems, we want to take the burden off of them, they’ve come to us to enjoy themselves,” she said.

Yetka added they play an important role in society could vanish.

“The local restaurant was the place that we got away as a family and came together as, you know, friends, community, and you know escape. We’re the fabric of the community and we’re going to be gone.”

While these restaurant owners do not want to diminish the impact of COVID-19, they are worried about their future unless they get the assistance other industries like the airlines have received from Congress. Stuckey says it is important to remember that 10% of Colorado’s workforce is in the restaurant industry.

“If you’re in Denver, Colorado, or if you’re in New York City, or you’re in Omaha, Nebraska, if you’re a restaurant owner, the pain is very intense,” he said. “You cannot fathom what it’s like to try to run a restaurant in COVID.”

A survey by the Colorado Restaurant Association in November suggested that without indoor dining, 24% of restaurants could close in a month. Stuckey says that the Independent Restaurant Coalition found that three fourths of all restaurants could be gone by February. He warns that the impact will be felt by those who do not even eat out. Even the stimulus from Colorado’s legislature will not be enough, according to Yetka. She says the Restaurants Act is the type of aid needed.

“What they’ve done is a drop in the bucket, the amount of money we’re going to see from the new Colorado stimulus package in total makes us whole for a Monday,” she said. “It was a nice gesture but it’s like taking a teaspoon of water out of the Atlantic, it’s not going to help one bit.”

Stuckey pointed out that other industries have been bailed out in the 2008 economic downturn, after 9/11, and the stock market crash in 1987, and said this time restaurants need help and cannot survive on their own.

“This is a different year and restaurants need to be addressed and we need the Restaurants Act,” he said.

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You can learn more about the Restaurants Act at www.saverestaurants.com.

To order any items for Colorado Strong, check out Bigsby’s Folly on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bigsbysfolly/?hl=en
The Angel Relief Fund is administered by the Colorado Restaurant Association: https://corestaurant.org/foundation/angel-relief-fund

Shawn Chitnis