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Rescue our Restaurants

How your favorite local restaurants are navigating COVID-19 - and what you can do to help

Article by Allyson Reedy

Photography by Joe Friend Photography

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

By the time you’re reading this, dine-in restaurants will have been closed for at least a month and a half — a huge blow to an industry operating on already slim margins. It’s a terrible situation on so many fronts, but there are things we the eaters can do to help save our restaurants, ensuring we still have good things to eat — and talented, skilled workers still have their jobs — when we return to our non-quarantined lives.

We asked leading restaurant owners and chefs how they responded to the COVID-19-induced closures and what diners can do to support the most delicious of industries during and coming out of the coronavirus crisis. Because our local restaurants need our help, and we need our local restaurants. 

Dave Query, Big Red F Restaurant Group, which includes The Post Brewing Co., The West End Tavern, Jax Fish House, Lola Coastal Mexican and Zolo

“Everyone open and serving food right now along the Front Range is doing their very best to pivot and continue to be of service to our communities,” Dave Query says, and he knows. Both Zolo and The Post Rosedale turned their porches into pop-up farm stands to distribute Boulder County Farmers Markets goods on Saturdays; Zolo’s kitchen has been dedicated to making meals for Big Red F’s 670 furloughed employees as well as healthcare workers via the Feed the Frontlines Boulder program; and The West End Tavern and all Post locations have been open for ramped-up carryout and delivery. That’s a lot of change in a short period of time.

How we can help while dine-in restaurants are closed, Query says, is to buy gift cards. Restaurants need the cash now to get through this difficult period, and — bonus! — diners get more bang for their buck because many merchants are giving additional amounts and perks on purchases.

It’s been impressive and inspiring to watch how quickly restaurants have switched gears during all of this — some acting as social distancing-friendly markets; others as ground-zero prep kitchens to aid those in need — but what we really miss is the formerly normal experience of going out to eat. 

“You can’t recreate that experience in Zoom or at home,” Query says. “That sense of being in an electric environment, eating good food, and having that experience with family and friends — just awesome. We will be back. And restaurants will again serve the communities we are in in all the various ways we do. We are a scrappy bunch, us restaurant folk — we will survive — and with our incredible guests who support us so well, we will live to fight another day.”

Bobby Stuckey, co-founder Frasca Food & Wine, Tavernetta, Pizzeria Locale, Sunday Vinyl

Bobby Stuckey didn’t want to unnecessarily expose his workers to COVID-19, so he closed all of the restaurants in the interest of employee health and safety. So what did he do with his newfound downtime? Oh, he just got to work saving the restaurant industry, that’s all. No big deal. 

Worried that restaurants wouldn’t survive the extensive dine-in closures, Stuckey helped form a huge coalition of independent restaurants across the country and got their interests heard by congress for the first time. All in the hopes of making sure that after all of this is over, our favorite restaurants will still exist.

“We (independent restaurants) have been around for so long, we’re so much a part of the American ecosystem, but we just never had a voice,” Stuckey says. “It’s ironic that an industry that makes up so much of the private sector had literally zero voice in DC. And had we not gotten involved, there would have been zero voice involved in the stimulus plan. There wouldn’t have been anything for small businesses.”

The group is called the Independent Restaurant Coalition (IRC), and its mission is to save our local restaurants. Stuckey and a few other founding members formed the group. As of early April, it counts nearly 11,000 members, including award-winning chefs and restaurant owners, on the fly in response to the closures. They started a website,, to make people aware of these small restaurants’ huge impact on our economy. Accounting for up to 4 percent of total GDP and employing 11 million nationwide, it’s about time that restaurants, the lifeblood of our communities, had a voice to affect policy change. 

And when restaurants can once again re-open, what can we diners do to help them survive? 

“Give up all those newfound home cooking skills that you’ve practiced for the last six weeks, put a padlock on the refrigerator and just eat out for all your meals,” Stuckey jokes. “Really, the best thing the diner can do is go out to your favorite restaurant and have a good time. The independent restaurant industry is such a fragile industry. Hopefully, this brings that to light and we can do better moving forward.”

Bradford Heap, Chef/owner SALT

A couple weeks into the dine-in restaurant closures, Bradford Heap agonized over whether he should close the delivery and carryout operations at SALT. 

“I’m not really qualified to make these decisions,” he says. “I’m a chef. This is really overwhelming to try to understand how to keep my employees safe, how to keep my business and my livelihood safe, and how to keep our customers safe. It’s just a really big, complex, scary issue.”

His silver lining was working with Feed the Frontlines Boulder, providing tasty, healthy meals to the overworked healthcare heroes fighting the coronavirus firsthand. He enjoyed helping people, but putting his employees at risk? Not so much. At the beginning of April he made the difficult decision to close SALT altogether. With food delivery apps like Grubhub taking huge commissions out of already razor-thin restaurant margins, it didn’t make sense — economic or otherwise — to send people out to work during the crisis.

“It’s hard to overcome the greed of Grubhub — they’re pimping restaurants. The losses can’t all be absorbed by the little guys,” he says. “It’s going to be like the apocalypse of the mom and pop restaurant if we don’t get the support we need.” 

Heap suggests we contact our government officials urging them to create and vote for legislation that helps restaurants get through this dire time. We can also support our favorites by buying gift cards during the closures, continuing the curbside carry-out when they re-open, and, of course, going out to eat to celebrate life’s return to normalcy.

Kevin Daly, Mountain Sun, Southern Sun, Vine Street, Longs Peak Pub, and Under the Sun

Kevin Daly voluntarily closed his Mountain Sun pubs for dine-in service just before the statewide closures hit. After a week and a half of successful curbside takeout business, he realized that the stress and worry was taking a toll on employees’ health and well-being, and so he shut that down as well. His new focus? Get people back into the local, independent restaurants once this is all over.

“Just prior to the COVID crisis, many local restaurants were experiencing tough times due to increased competition from chains and large out-of-state restaurant groups. Hopefully, Coloradans will support the small local restaurants that are more authentic and meaningful to them after the crisis is over,” Daly says.

The best things diners can do to help their meaningful restaurants survive and re-open, he says, is to buy gift cards, contribute to fundraising campaigns to get employees paid, and give their dining dollars to those smaller spots that are entwined in the community.

“It has been amazing to see how helpful and close the Colorado restaurant community has been to each other,” Daly says. “There has been so much collaboration, communication, support and sharing. I’ve been blown away by the generosity of the local restaurant owners and employees.”

Coral & Will Frischkorn, Cured

Although they could have remained open — as a grocer, Cured is considered an essential business — Coral and Will Frischkorn voluntarily decided to close their market for the health and safety of all who enter the tiny shop’s doors. To keep the community stocked up with all the amazing specialty goods they’ve come to rely upon Cured for, the Frischkorns opened a virtual storefront and found themselves connecting with customers in a new way — via technology.

“We found ourselves on the phone, FaceTime, and Zoom more than ever, reminding our customers how much fun it can be to browse shelves together, plan pairings and brainstorm dinner, all through the use of technology.”

While they’ve experienced the same challenges of the stay-at-home orders as many of us — hello, online schooling and cabin fever — they’ve also experienced the unexpected joys, like reconnecting with their kitchen, cooking more meals at home, and sitting down with their family around the table for dinner. Their customers are doing more of that, too, and the more we cook, the more interested we are in learning about our food and where it comes from. 

“Through food we can still connect to a greater community even when socially distanced in our own homes,” the couple says. “Now more than ever, keeping your dollars in the local ecosystem is that much more important. The outpouring of love and support has been tremendous and has been a fantastic reminder for us all of what an incredible community Boulder is and how lucky we are to have a small business here.”


Win-win: Feed the Frontlines Boulder supports local restaurants and our healthcare heroes

Wanting to boost both hospital workers and struggling independent restaurants, some of Boulder’s brightest minds came together to create Feed the Frontlines Boulder. The idea: pay restaurants to prepare meals for the overworked healthcare workers who are a little busy saving our lives right now to make healthy meals for themselves. The restaurants get money during the closures to hold onto employees, and Boulder Community Health hospital workers get nutritious, delicious meals to fuel their fight. 

The program launched with $200,000 thanks to generous donations from Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor, John Goldsmith, Dan and Cindy Caruso and an anonymous donor — enough to feed BCH workers for a month. Participating restaurants include some of Boulder’s best — Blackbelly, SALT, Next Door, Japango, Community Table Kitchen, and Zolo have all been involved — so yeah, the healthcare workers are eating pretty well.

“It’s been incredible to see this come together so quickly,” says Erin Pommer, the program’s restaurant liaison. “We have a really special community in Boulder.”

Pommer says they’d like to keep the program going through at least the end of May and possibly expand to fire stations and other medical facilities. To make a donation, visit