By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4)– The restaurants of the Bonanno Concepts group are the latest in Denver to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination, a move that follows requiring all of the workers to be vaccinated.

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“It’s definitely a positive checkmark when I do go out to eat,” said Megan Tice as she and Dana Norder arrived at Mizuna for dinner Thursday night.

“I’m very proud to be vaccinated and so I like when restaurants are doing this,” added Norder. “They’re really taking a stand, I appreciate that.”

“It’s the commitment to community,” said Jessica Kinney, who was in charge of implementation for the restaurants. “We’re all sick of this, right? We’re all so tired. All businesses have been up and down back and forth, but restaurants have really taken it on the chin.”

There are nine restaurants plus the Milk Market in LoDo, which includes 16 concepts, all part of the group. Legendary chef Frank Bonanno carries a lot of influence in the restaurant community in Denver.

“We feel ready and I think too the world is a bit more ready than they were a few months ago,” said Kinney. “It hasn’t been a short process it’s been something we’ve been working on for a very long time.”

The group first started by requiring workers to be vaccinated by August.

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“The hardest part was definitely talking to our staff who are not vaccinated and working with them to find the right choice for them.”

Many she said, had simply put it off. It took setting a hard deadline.

“Can’t start your shift, this is the deadline. And they went out and got their shot.”

In the end, only seven of the company’s approximately 400 workers chose not to be vaccinated. They helped them find other employment.

“Parted on good terms. They’re welcome back, they know they are, we had goodbye parties.”

Then the company began insuring workers were trained to deal with problems. For a month, they were insisting on masks, so that helped.

“We’ve been doing you know what we’re calling empathy training. How to handle when people are upset and there are so many reasons that this isn’t comfortable for some people.”

Thursday night, customer Mike McConnell came to Mizuna.

“I’m unvaccinated so that kind of speaks for itself,” he said after he was told he would not be admitted. “It’s the first time it’s ever happened actually to me.”

McConnell said he would take his business elsewhere.

“I think these places are going to lose a lot of business over that,” he said.

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But others sought out the restaurant.

“It’s exciting to see Denver step up, or at least Denver small businesses to step up and do their part,” said Tice.

“What we felt is that we have to be doing as much as we can to put a stop to this as soon as we can,” explained Kinney.

She says not only were customers seeking them out but workers who want to feel protected from COVID-19 on the job.

“I do think at the end of the day all of our staff is excited to be doing the right thing. And they say that to us every day.”

Inside, people worked and dined without masks, glad to have the protection of the vaccine.

“It’s proven, it’s out there. So this is our little corner of the world and we can do that here and hopefully, that will make a difference down the road.”

RELATED: Chef Frank Bonanno Institues A ‘Creating Happy People’ Charge At All Of His Denver Restaurants

Alan Gionet