Parker restaurants certified under the COVID-19 5-Star program could soon receive loosened indoor dining restrictions, but simply doubling the permitted seating capacity means different things to different restaurateurs.
Gov. Jared Polis moved the state from level red “stay-at-home” to level orange “safer-at-home” status Jan. 4. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced the same day that any businesses previously certified under the COVID-19 5-Star program — allowing them to operate at 25% of their indoor dining capacity — could move to level yellow safer-at-home restrictions after seven consecutive days of declining cases in their respective counties. Level yellow status permits restaurants to operate at 50% capacity.
Aaron and Sharon Murphy, co-owners of Welcome Home Brewery in south Parker, welcomed a move to level yellow, which would better enable them to hold events. Before the pandemic, Welcome Home held poker games, trivia contests and karaoke nights
“There’s obviously a cost associated with all that, so you want to make sure you’re getting a good return on your investment,” Aaron Murphy said. “At 25% capacity that’s kind of a tipping point, whereas at 50% capacity we could do those activities and still draw the crowds in.”
The Murphys opened Welcome Home Brewery, at 19523 Hess Road, in 2018. Aaron, an Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office deputy by day, credited local support as the reason they have been able to weather the pandemic to this point.
“March, April and May were a long three months,” Aaron said. “Our customers and our regulars really stepped up during that time.”
During the early stages of the pandemic last year, they would have friends volunteer to help wherever the Murphys needed, Aaron said.
“I think they missed the social aspect as much as we did,” Aaron said.
Aaron recalled how he woke up early May 23 of last year as if it were Christmas Day — the day breweries could reopen again following the shutdown that began in March.
“When they hit us with level red restrictions again” in mid-November, Aaron said, “that was really hard …
“Having to tell people ‘Hey you can come in and grab a beer, but you have to sit outside in the cold’ — that was really challenging,” Aaron said.
Welcome Home was one of the first 100 or so businesses to open under the new program status, Aaron said. The county received approval from the state for its 5-Star certification program the morning of Dec. 21. Welcome Home received its inspection that afternoon. Two days later, they reopened at 25% capacity.
Level yellow is the second of three “safer-at-home” levels outlined on the CDPHE dial framework for reopening businesses amid the pandemic. Level yellow allows restaurants to operate at 50% indoor capacity — double of what is allowed under the current level orange safer-at-home restrictions.
To Michael Wood, manager of Hickory House, being able to operate at 50% versus 25% capacity makes little difference when the underlying contingency is that parties remain 6 feet apart.
“I personally do not think it’s going to make a difference,” Wood said Jan. 7. “It’s the 6-foot rule that ties our hands. We still have to adhere to that, and that goes all the way to (level) green.”
Hickory House has narrow corridors and a more intimate dining area normally capable of seating 50 people. At 25% capacity, the restaurant can seat 12 people at a time. Scanning the dining room from a booth Jan. 7, Wood pointed out there were few places to sit more customers while enforcing 6-foot social distancing inside.
Wood and his staff do their best to follow public health guidelines wherever they sit on the dial, Wood said, but he still grapples with the ever-changing — at times, confusing — nuances of the public health orders, like the subtle difference between where a bartender can mix drinks and how close a server can stand to a table being serviced.
“It seems like it changes all the time,” Wood said.
Wood trusts that the public health officials’ guidance will get everyone through the pandemic quicker, he said.
“If it saves lives and we get through the pandemic — fine,” Wood said. “So be it.”
Level green, also known as “protect our neighbors,” is the lowest level on the CDPHE COVID-19 dial.
Wood and Murphy, though in different industries, agree that they would not be open today if it were not for support from the community as well as local leaders. Both praised Town of Parker and Douglas County officials for stepping up for small businesses.
“There’s been a lot of push to support local businesses, and that’s been fantastic,” Aaron said. “Then, of course, our regulars and the people who have become part of our Welcome Home family — they’re a big part of the reason we’re going to be able to endure this thing.”