By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4) – The City and County of Denver transitioned into its own public health order on Friday as the state’s COVID Dial came to an end, maintaining restrictions at Level Blue from the previous scale. There will still be capacity and distance requirements indoors and outdoors, creating challenges for businesses working to get back to conditions before the pandemic.

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“I think it’s probably a much smarter move because it’s hard to make a global decision when you have these microcosms of effects,” said Christine Parisi, the owner of two restaurants on Tennyson Street.

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Local health departments are now expected to monitor cases and other factors related to COVID-19 and set guidelines accordingly through the end of the pandemic. Parisi operates a restaurant of the same name and before the pandemic, Firenze a Tavola, but closed that part of her business.

“It’s a good conscious effort of the government to release this information that there’s 100% capacity but it gives this public this false perception that we’re back to normal,” she told CBS4.

For 23 years she has worked in the restaurant business but says the past 13 months have been unlike anything she experienced previously. Parisi spends more time in her office than ever before, taking on new responsibilities and learning about aspects of the current state restrictions as they become a requirement.

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“This is the first time I’ve had to kind of turn my head away from the actual restaurant operations and just learn how to manage the situation at hand, so it did not feel anything like running a restaurant this past year,” she said. “Just always prepared for another pivot and a little bit hesitant to believe that things are just going to go away.”

READ MORE: COVID In Colorado: Governor's Office Lifts Face Mask Mandate For Those Who Are Vaccinated

Unemployment claims are one example of the new reality, the volume is well above anything she is used to with a steady rotation of employees working for her in the past. The team she has now is managing the current factors of COVID as best as they can, but social distancing is keeping them from progressing to the next step.

Six feet between tables forces her to keep booths empty because she cannot move them around the dining room. It’s a challenge other restaurants her size and smaller are facing under the new chapter of COVID regulations. The Colorado Restaurant Association has asked local and state leaders to take this into consideration as they update policy. Parisi can only reach 25% capacity because of the current distance requirement.

“It’s a false perception, it’s giving people this idea that we should be looking forward and be thankful that now we’re back to normal when really we’re still awkwardly trying to maneuver around this situation,” Parisi said. “And I’m not looking to put tables on the ceiling anytime soon.”

Parisi respects the process and the considerations health orders are factoring when making that restriction but says that will keep her from getting back to the climate she remembers before the pandemic. Not only are booths a challenge, she can’t seat most of the spots on the bar either.

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The next hurdle is a hiring rush that all restaurants are participating in at the moment. Many of their former employees have made career changes or do not want to leave unemployment and return to their old jobs, according to Parisi. This has her current staff working double time and putting out food focused on volume and less on the experience they created before COVID. She estimates that they are making less money for all that work because of the type of orders they primarily receive from customers. She says there will be a lingering impact from the pandemic that is more complicated than some people realize and will influence the way they dine out for a few more years.

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“Then I can actually run both restaurants, that’s normal for me,” she said about regaining full capacity and her original staff. “I’m keeping my eyes at the light at the end of the tunnel, I try to be optimistic about this situation.”

Shawn Chitnis