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Colorado’s restaurant crisis and Douglas County

By Elizabeth Wood West

As Coloradans approach the one-year mark of living with COVID-19 and executive health orders, some disturbing numbers are showing how hard the restaurant industry has been hit in 2020.

According to Restaurant Newswire, nearly half of new Colorado unemployment benefit claims that were filed the week that indoor dining was banned are from restaurant and accommodations workers. A survey from the National Restaurant Association revealed that approximately 100,000 restaurants had closed on a permanent or long-term basis during the first six months of the pandemic, which translates to nearly one in six restaurants and three million unemployed restaurant workers. The numbers are higher today.

Colorado Restaurant Association’s CEO Sonia Riggs said, “On the Front Range, restaurateurs report that their busiest time of year occurs between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. In the mountains, 60-80% of restaurant total revenues for the year typically come from the ski season from December-March, and a significant amount of that comes from the holidays. Restaurants reported in October that they were down an average of 40% for the year, and that was before the Level Red indoor dining shutdown went into place in many counties. To that point, the Colorado industry has collectively lost more than $2 billion compared with the same time in 2019.” Riggs stressed that Colorado’s restaurant industry is working to allow in-house dining in many ways, even though the publicly available state transmission data does not support the idea that restaurants are a major culprit of COVID-19 spread, yet they are bearing the brunt of the economic fallout.

On December 4, the Douglas County Commissioners sent letters to Governor Polis and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) seeking approval for a variance program (under the Level Red restrictions) that would allow increased occupancy for local restaurants and businesses. The application was submitted in collaboration with and the support of Tri-County Health Department, hospitals, business community leadership, law enforcement and municipalities – including the City of Castle Pines and Castle Pines Chamber of Commerce, Castle Rock Chamber, Castle Rock Economic Development Council, City of Lone Tree, Douglas County Libraries, Highlands Ranch Community Association, Highlands Ranch Metro District, Town of Castle Rock, Town of Parker, Parker Chamber of Commerce, and the Northwest Douglas County Chamber & Economic Development Council.

On December 18, Douglas County released a statement stating “… Douglas County today was among the first to submit the required application and letters of support to the CDPHE seeking a variance that, if approved, will allow increased occupancy for local businesses – including restaurants.”

Known as the 5 Star State Certification Program or the 5 Star Variance Program, the program in Douglas County is known as the COVID Best Practices Business Certification Program. Businesses that seek and achieve successful certification through the County’s program receive designation as a Certified COVID Best Practices Business. The program encourages businesses to implement COVID safety measures beyond what is already required, and thus accelerate their increased capacity.

On December 23, Douglas County was the first among other metro Denver counties to receive approval from CDPHE to allow 5 Star-certified restaurants and businesses to open.

As of press time, dozens of Douglas County businesses had been certified and many others are applying daily.

To learn more about the 5 Star Certification Program, visit To check which restaurants/businesses have been certified, visit



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