Denver Council OKs $1.5 million in grants for restaurant and hospitality workers

Chefs, servers and others working in Denver’s hospitality industry will benefit from $1.5 million federal COVID-19 relief money after the City Council unanimously signed off on two grant programs Monday night.

The Colorado Restaurant Association has been tapped to distribute $1 million to attract and retain workers under the “Denver Back to Work” program. The Colorado Event Alliance, an organization launched specifically to respond to the pandemic, will be in charge of another $500,000 for workers.

The hospitality industry has struggled to keep up with demand as business COVID restrictions were rolled back this spring and summer. The inability to find enough staff has caused some restaurants to run on limited hours.

“We know that these grants will go a long way toward helping restaurants bring on more staff at a crucial time,” CRA President Laura Shunk said in a statement.

The program follows in the footsteps of the $3 million Angel Relief Fund grants that the CRA distributed last year to an estimated 3,500 hotel and restaurant workers.

With this program, the city’s economic development office has set a $10,000 grant cap for businesses. The only eligibility requirement is that the business has a Denver location.

The restaurant association won’t dictate how eligible restaurants use their grants; it estimates more than 940 hospitality workers could receive payments that average $1,500 each. Shunk said the money could be used for things that impact worker availability, like paying for child care.

Aileen Reilly, who co-owns Denver Italian restaurant Coperta with her brother, had to lay off workers twice during the pandemic but staffed back up both times.

With some signs of another tough fall and winter for restuarants starting to emerge — like people only wanting to sit outside — Reilly said she wants to make sure her long-time employees feel appreciated at a time when competition for restaurant workers is fierce.

“If we are able to have money to even say, ‘Hey, you have been with us through this and we just want to give you a little bonus for being part of it,’ that goes a long way,” Reilly said.

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