“Restaurants are the new American factories”: Denver chefs putting in wartime work during coronavirus shutdown

Most days, Colorado-based chef Andrea Frizzi checks in with his sister in Milan, Italy. She’s very worried about him in Denver.

Frizzi runs Il Posto on Larimer Street, as well as Vero pizza and pasta and Tammen’s Fish counter at Denver Central Market. He sounded exhausted, almost breathless during a phone conversation a week after Denver restaurants were shut down for two months in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“She knows that I don’t stop, because I can’t,” Frizzi said of their conversations. “Restaurants are the new American factories,” he explained. ‘We work with our hands, we stand up, we come in. Now bureaucracy needs to run at the same pace as the crisis.”

As of Wednesday, Frizzi had switched his restaurants’ business models more than once just to survive the first week of the shutdown.

He was selling comfort foods like pizza, pasta, meat and cheese and, mostly, wine in order to keep his remaining staff of around 10 people employed.

Those still working set aside their tips to donate to the more than 20 others who couldn’t keep their jobs for lack of work or health concerns. At Denver Central Market, Frizzi continued stocking basics — eggs, butter, sugar and toilet paper —  to sell alongside to-go meals.

“For now, we are able to pay people,” Frizzi said. “We can’t pay rent, clearly, with this money. We can forget right now about revenue,” and profit and loss.

Millions more in Frizzi’s position across America were waiting during the second week of the shutdown to hear Congress’ plan to help small businesses and workers who had been laid off as a result of coronavirus.

From March 16 to 19 in Colorado, more than 20,000 people filed unemployment insurance claims, or 1,450% more than the week prior. Restaurant workers make up around 10% of state employment, or 294,000 employees. At least 174,000 of them have lost their jobs as of Thursday, according to the Colorado Restaurant Association.