By Conor McCue

(CBS4) – While Casa Bonita remains closed for renovations, the iconic restaurant and entertainment venue in Lakewood’s workers are staying busy. Since November, several dozen employees have been paid to serve the community in the Denver metro area full time.  

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On Tuesday, the wait for a helping hand stretched dozens of cars deep in the parking lot of Presentation of Our Lady Church in southwest Denver. For hours, Oscar Anguiano and other volunteers for We Don’t Waste, a nonprofit that recovers unused food and distributes it around Denver, brought box after box of non-perishables to people in need.

“The thing I like about this organization specifically is the gratification comes almost instantly,” Anguiano said. “You can instantly see how you’re helping people.” 

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While most working with the nonprofit are volunteering their time, a handful of people wearing pink Casa Bonita hoodies are on the clock. They’re among 42 employees getting paid to give back to the community while the Denver area landmark gets a facelift by new owners and Comedy Central’s “South Park” creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone 

“I absolutely love it,” said Anguiano. “It’s a different kind of feeling giving back to community while I’m still employed.” 

We Don’t Waste is one of five local charities where Casa Bonita chefs, servers and divers are now working full time. The other organizations include Habitat ReStores, the Action Center, Project Angel Heart and SAME Café.  

“To have a group of people that you can regularly depend upon each and every day is invaluable because we don’t have to train them each day,” said Arlan Preblud, founder and executive director of We Don’t Waste. “They come to us. They know what the routines are, they work with us, they’re very engaged with us, and it’s terrific.”  

For employees like Anguiano, it’s a welcome arrangement after almost two years of uncertainty. He worked for the restaurant before its previous owners declared bankruptcy and will return to work as soon as it opens again under new management. 

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“I don’t know when we’re going back to work,” he said. “We’re very excited to go back and see what they want to change and what they’re doing.”  

The employees will continue working with community groups until the restaurant is ready to re-open. They hope to re-open late summer or early fall of 2022.   

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Conor McCue