By Alan Gionet

(CBS4) – The latest steps in Colorado’s moves toward reopening are taking some restaurants back to a place they haven’t been for a long time.  More counties that are in Level Yellow on the COVID-19 Dial can now allow Five Star certified businesses to operate in Level Blue. That includes Douglas, Arapahoe, Adams, Denver, Boulder, Weld, Summit, Pitkin, El Paso and Larimer Counties.

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In Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood, restaurants are glad. At the Cherry Cricket, general manager Hdidi Ziepprech is staffing up for the weekend when the restaurant will go later.

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“There’s about 70% of the people that are ready to come back as long as it’s safe. In which case we’ve tried very hard to make it safe.”

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The Cherry Cricket has added a big tent, green AstroTurf-type covering and chairs, fireplaces and greenhouse style enclosures to its parking lot.

“We’re going to leave it right now. A lot of people have said they really like the outdoors space,” she said.

As Colorado’s COVID dial moves closer to normal life, businesses that have me the Five Star certification program can go into Level Blue. That means capacities can rise to as many as 175 people indoors, but only at 50% capacity. Few restaurants have that kind of room. Restrictions mean indoor seating arrangements must still be 6 feet apart.

(credit: CBS)

Down the street at the Milwaukee Street Tavern, managing bartender Jody Campen is eager to see crowds again. The restaurant has met the Five Star qualifications. COVID restrictions hurt.

“It took us back quite a few steps. We were doing well,” said Campen.

It’s a business that caters to the after-work crowd for people in the bar and restaurant and hospitality industry in Cherry Creek.

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“A lot of the restaurant kids when they get done working this will give them some extra time to come in and have some cocktails and food after their shift,” said Campen.

And there were people there after getting off work at nearby establishments.

“You know it’s a really tight knit community. You know working hotels and hospitality we try to find a place with like-minded people you know to hang out,” said hospitality manager Jarred McClain.

“Our ability to hang out with each other which is for the most part why we’re still in this industry. We like to hang out with people who are like minded  and people that enjoy the same things as we do,” said restaurant manager Chris Willers.

Meeting the Five Star requirements means more stringent guidelines, but it will be worth it for the later closing time said Ziepprech.

“I’m sure there are some people that are never going to leave the house again but I hope they do.”

The restaurant’s capacity was about 280 before the pandemic. By  losing their parking lot, creating outdoor spaces and sealing off nearly every other table in the multitude of rooms at the Cricket, they’ve been able to reach capacity of about 200 of late. An inspector told them they might be able to put more people inside with dividers between booths. But Zeipprech decided against the expense. They have spent a great deal up to this point, but this one she decided to let go.

Now if only the people will return.

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“I probably have a very different outlook from people who haven’t left their homes for a year, but I’d would say yes so far from the people that I’ve met they’re very happy to be back and they’ve missed us. And they’re all coming out again since the vaccine and it’s great.”

Alan Gionet