'There's no playbook' for pandemic, Lone Tree business owners say

Lone Tree bars, eateries face challenges of new reality

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To John Winter, the first week of the COVID-19 pandemic felt all too familiar. The co-owner of Lone Tree Brewing Co. said the flow of decision-making and the constantly changing situation reminded him of the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“There's no playbook, and you're kind of making decisions on the fly,” Winter said.

Lone Tree bars, breweries and restaurants are getting creative to attract new customers, but many owners believe that direct support from the community will be the difference-maker in helping local businesses stay afloat.

The spread of the novel coronavirus throughout the region and country led Gov. Jared Polis to institute a 30-day ban on dine-in services, beginning March 17. Polis also urged against gatherings of 10 or more people for eight weeks, on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Local businesses may be reprieved somewhat after the Small Business Administration granted Colorado's request for a disaster declaration March 19, allowing businesses to apply for up to $2 million loans.

That still may not be enough to keep some businesses going if closures last much longer than a month. Throughout the state, restaurant owners are reducing employee hours or laying off workers altogether.

Urban Village owner Ramesh Madakasira said they are creating take-out options, but said it will be difficult to strike a balance between the restaurant's mission, to only serve the freshly made meals, and reality. The restaurant opened in October and had just started to gain traction before the pandemic broke out.

Though the restaurant has had to reduce hours of some staff, it has not made any layoffs. If the ban is extended to, say, 45 days, more difficult decisions will need to be made in order to survive.

“For a business like ours, relatively new … we are barely stabilized,” Madakasira said. He said he felt happy to see the staff work through its early challenges. “We are too young in here, and I think it's a really big jolt for us.”

However, Madakasira said, they're not panicking. Madakasira said they are considering a meal plan for customers to take lunch and dinner in one pick-up.

“From a customer standpoint, it's right, but we want to stick to the point where we sell fresh,” he said.

Polis' ban forced Lone Tree Brewing to close its tasting room. The brewery sells six-packs in local grocery and liquor stores and customers can call to pick-up six-packs and growlers as well. Winter and co-owner Jerry Siote decided to give priority to workers who needed to work and raised their wages to offset an expected drop in gratuities.

Siote said it's crucial to support local now, including local liquor stores, which faced an arduous year last year as a new state law permitted grocery chains to sell full-strength beer in their stores.

Siote said the best thing to do at the moment is take it one day at a time.

“There's only so many things in your control at any given moment. You can't ruminate too much on what's going to happen in 30 days, 45 days, two months or three months,” Siote said. “We're hour-by-hour right now. You have to be in that moment. There's going to be a solution. It's not going to be easy, but what can we solve right now?”

Winter agreed.

“Humans are very resourceful,” Winter said. “We will get through this. We are going to get through this. Our No. 1 goal is to be here the day this is over, open our doors, welcome our customers back in and be the Lone Tree we've always wanted to be, and that's very important to us.”

COVID-19, Lone Tree

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