By Karen Morfitt

DENVER (CBS4) – Denver City Council unanimously approved $1.5 million in grant money Monday night to help the restaurant and hospitality industry in Denver hire and keep their staff. It’s being called The Denver Back to Work program.

According to Denver’s Department of Economic Development and Opportunity they are using COVID relief money to help rebuild the local job base with a focus on the restaurant, hospitality and events industries.

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Laura Shunk is the President of the Colorado Restaurant foundation.

“They can use it reward people who have been with them and give them a bonus, or they can use it to attract people with things like a hiring bonus,” Shunk said.

Kevin J. Daly is the owner of Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery chain, which includes Vine Street Pub and Brewery in Denver.

“We lost a lot of people moved on they went to do other things they changed careers they moved away they moved back in with their parents,” he said.

(credit: CBS)

Daly says navigating the pandemic and now trying to reopen has been somewhat of a maize.

“All of the sudden there was just this demand that was so strong. People wanted to go out and we didn’t have enough kitchen staff and trying to explain why you can’t seat all the tables and people were really kind at first, but their patience has been thin,” he said.

Now he’s focused on hiring and training, which he says can be costly, to get two of their locations that have remained close throughout the pandemic back open.

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“Could more incentives help bring people in?” CBS4 Reporter Karen Morfitt asked Daly.

“Any assistance can help. Everyone sees how busy we are we are on an hour wait we are packed but we are not cash flowing we are not positive without PPE and without these employer retention credits people aren’t making money,” he said.

The Grant programs approved in Denver will add to those programs and is designed to make the hospitality industry more attractive to potential employees.

The Colorado Event Alliance and Colorado restaurant association will distribute that money.

Shunk says each employer will be limited to $10,000 and must go directly to the employee which according to the city would mean roughly $1,500 per worker.

“We built the program to have flexibility because every restaurant is different every hotel is different. Every employee has different needs and sort of has different incentives. So as long as they fit within these broad criteria and are using it to keep employees employed or to bring new employees to work.”

Daly says it will be a big help, but rebuilding isn’t going to happen overnight.

“The entire industry was ruptured, and it’s like a war almost. It’s going to take a couple years,” he said.

The Colorado Event Alliance will be responsible for rewarding $500,000 to employers in the hospitality and event industry. The Colorado Restaurant Association will decide where the remaining $1 million.

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You can check their websites for more on how to apply:

Karen Morfitt