By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – A Taste of Colorado is back after a year’s break due to the pandemic. It’s reformulated and moved, but still expected to draw a crowd.

(credit: CBS)

“We decided let’s just bring everything to the heart of downtown, showcase our local businesses,” said Sharon Alton, senior vice president of downtown experiences for the Downtown Denver Partnership.

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Part of that move from Civic Center Park was due to COVID.

“There’s a certain amount of space and you’re pretty much-packed shoulder to shoulder with people,” she noted about Civic Center Park, where people entered a fenced area.

This year it will run in spots along the 16th Street Mall from Skyline Park east.

“Our idea to spread it throughout the mall over eight blocks, was really because when we started planning it we had no idea what the state of COVID would be,” said Alton.

There will be more than a dozen food trucks along with some food booths, though fewer of those this year.

(credit: CBS)

“You know you have to spend a lot of money to do these types of things, that are hard to quantify just how much you get in return but it’s kind of a long term investment,” said Jonathon Nesvik as his crew set up a counter for his Mystic Mountain Distillery.

They do frequent events and have found a lot of pent-up demand coming out of the pandemic. For his distillery, this is how they introduce themselves to potential customers.

“We don’t have a lot of money to do a lot of traditional marketing, so this is our marketing,” he added.

The Taste will still have music, with acts playing near the Clock Tower and by Glenarm Street. Artists will be along the streets. Many of those who will set up have been hit hard by the pandemic. But getting a lot of restaurants to take part was asking a lot.

“There are a variety of things that have changed dramatically in the last year and a half, not the least of which is the staffing issue,” said restaurant consultant John Imbergamo.

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Business has come back in a different way downtown he noted.

“I have clients who are up 20% over 2019 numbers,” he said.

But getting staff is still extremely tough. “We have owners that have gone back into the kitchen to be chefs,” he said. Many are, “Exhausted, but doing fine.”

Partly because over the past two months tourists have been filling restaurants. This has taken up for the seats once occupied by downtown workers in some cases. Vacancy rates are still running about 20%. People who live downtown discovered to-go food and did more cooking at home he said.
It’s not only staffing that’s getting more costly.

“We were paying $600 a case for crab, now we’re paying $1,000 a case for crab.”

That will mean differences.

(credit: CBS)

“Generally the consumer has a set picture for what things should cost. And moving that value perception one way or the other is a huge ship to turn.”

Hamburgers that were $12 may be $15 or $16. Dining is going to be less of a bargain.

“Getting that tweak on consumer’s value perception is going to be a tough one.”

A Taste of Colorado will be an event this year designed to get people to stop at the brick-and-mortar businesses downtown near the event. There may be fewer restaurants setting up booths, but one thing as always will be there.

“This is our first event since COVID,” said Rick Seewald as he worked to set up the turkey leg grilling operation. “It’s a lot different but I think people are really looking forward to getting out and getting their life back to normal.”

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A Taste of Colorado runs Saturday, Sunday and Monday 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Alan Gionet