By Anica Padilla

DENVER (CBS4) — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock says it is time for us to transition from “rescue to recovery” — and said expanding operations at local businesses is an important step. He’s urging Denver business owners to apply for the 5 Star Program, which will allow them to increase capacity.

(credit: CBS4)

The 5-star variance program that has been available in other counties, is finally opening for applications next week in Denver.

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“I don’t want a lot of people to think Vietnamese food is fast food,” Quyen Trinh said.

Trinh and her husband, Long Nguyen have long dreamed to bring something different to the Denver food scene. They finally opened Anise on the corner of Lincoln and 9th in 2019.

“Our pho taste better here, it’s very brothy,” she said

It’s a little bit of old country cuisine mixed with modern offerings.

“High-end cocktail, nice wine,” Nguyen said.

Opening a restaurant is a dream many share, but hardly anyone thought about a crippling pandemic.

“With limited openings, capacity requirements we didn’t make any money in 2020 either,” Nguyen explained.

(credit: Colorado Department of Public Health And Environment)

So, the couple has been waiting for a change.

Officials say the program is crucial right now for struggling businesses – with unemployment numbers jumping from 7.2% in November to 9.3% in December.

The City and County of Denver will begin accepting applications for its 5 Star Certification Program at 10 a.m. Feb. 2 at https://www.denver.org/5-star/. It would allow establishments to operate at a level lower than the county might.

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For instance, a restaurant such as Anise could move from Level Orange to Level Yellow, that would mean they could operate at 50% capacity indoors, up from 25%.

“A lot of the things we’re already implementing here anyways,” Nguyen said about the checklists of requirements.

The Denver 5-star website mentions things such as 6 feet spacing, it also included cleaning supplies that can kill COVID-19 and a checklist for heating ventilation, and air conditioning checklist for cleaner air.

It’s a lot, but it’s something Nguyen has to look forward to, “We do need to accommodate as many customers as we can, as fast as we can.”

The number of applicants will be capped at 500 for the first round. The second round will open in another two weeks.

Denver must maintain seven days of stable or declining Level Orange metrics, as defined by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, before the certified businesses can operate under Level Yellow limits.

(credit: CBS4)

“The good news is we’re close those best with those metrics now, so things are heading in the right direction,” Hancock said.

The mayor said the other key way to help get the city back on its feet is broadening vaccination distribution.

“We can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel… with the president’s announcement states will see 16% increase in vaccines and… it really means that we are the beginning of the end, but we have a lot of work to do over the next few months,” Hancock stated.

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Anica Padilla