Vail Valley businesses brace for new COVID capacity cuts
New rules require restaurants, offices, gyms and other businesses to operate at no more than 25% of capacity
Eagle County’s recent spike in COVID-19 cases has brought new restrictions that will hit local businesses hard.
The county’s move into the state’s high-risk category means many businesses can operate at only 25% capacity.
That came as sobering news to several local restaurant and brewery owners.
At Marko’s Pizzeria in Edwards, owner Mark Esteppe said his business will put more focus on takeout and delivery.
“We’re trying to hang in there,” Esteppe said.
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Esteppe has made a couple of recent posts on Facebook detailing the new rules at the restaurant, and how customers can help.
“Wear a mask” is at the top of the list.
Esteppe said he believes mask-wearing at the restaurant has declined lately.
The restaurant has changed its signs from “please wear a mask” to mandating mask-wearing.
“You can buy a lot of cool masks,” Esteppe said.
When the masks slip
At Bonfire Brewing in Eagle, co-owner Andy Jessen said mask-wearing can be tough in an establishment that sells adult beverages.
Jessen said “about 90%” of Bonfire’s patrons go along with the mask-wearing mandate. Those people are also willing to go along with Bonfire’s rules about not leaving your table and waiting for service.
But that can get tricky a few beers into a visit, he said. That can include jumping up to greet a friend or forgetting to mask up when on a trip to a restroom.
Bonfire’s indoor capacity is down to about 15 people inside, with more allowed at the tented-in area outside the establishment. That heated tent area is the result of collaborating with neighbors and the town to create what Jessen calls the “Second Street Annex.”
Jessen said the addition of a food truck just outside allows Bonfire to stay open, even with fewer guests allowed.
At Moe’s Original BBQ in Eagle, founding partner Jeff Kennedy said that the restaurant had already cut back its indoor seating to less than 50% of normal capacity, so a further cutback means the loss of just a few more tables.
Kennedy said Moe’s has for some time focused on takeout and making that experience better. Still, he added, the loss of seating at the small Moe’s Lionshead location will “probably beat us up.”
Kennedy said business has slowed recently, particularly since both the Eagle and Lionshead locations were shut down for COVID-related reasons.
Still, he added, “We don’t feel too deterred” by the cutback to 25% capacity. “If it goes below that, it’ll hurt everybody,” he added.
Community support essential
Fiesta’s New Mexican Café in Edwards started with just a pickup counter and a couple of tables. The restaurant has expanded over the years, but now has to cut way back due to current restrictions.
Fiesta’s owner Sue Marquez said the community has been a big help keeping the restaurant running. In fact, she said, “summer was great,” with the ability to put tables outside.
Now, there’s no bar seating at Fiesta’s, with the bar serving as a pickup area for takeout food.
Marquez said Fiesta’s will soon have its express window running again. There, people can pick up food and buy spices, sauces, and other items.
While a number of restaurants in Vail and the valley are putting up tents for winter dining, Marquez said Fiesta’s is unlikely to join that trend.
Instead, the restaurant will put up outdoor heaters and serve hot chocolate for those waiting for tables. Patrons will also be able to wait in their cars.
With the latest wave of COVID cases, Jessen said he’s seeing plenty of virus exhaustion.
“People are frustrated, tired and fatigued,” Jessen said. “We are, too.”
In a business that serves beer, Jessen said going back to 10 p.m. closing times has been a benefit.
“We have fewer problems,” with the earlier closing time, Jessen said. But, he acknowledged that restrictions may not be as much a damper on business as people’s responses to the pandemic.
People aren’t “willing to take the risk” of going out, he said.
Still, people are going to socialize, Jessen added. Dropping the capacity at restaurants and other businesses seems to drive people to gather privately.
“People need that (social) outlet,” Jessen said. “I just hope this works.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.