Coronavirus has brought this restaurant to a reckoning: keep feeding Denverites or close down and wait out the storm?

We’re still tailing Dio Mio, the Five Points pasta place, to get a pulse on the city’s restaurant scene.

Spencer White, co-owner of Dio Mio, and James Medina prepare food for tonight's takeout orders. Five Points, March 20, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Spencer White, co-owner of Dio Mio, and James Medina prepare food for tonight's takeout orders. Five Points, March 20, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photos

After an initial surge in takeout orders following the closure of restaurant dining rooms across the city and state, Dio Mio’s sales now resemble the type of coronavirus graph we all want to see: a flattened curve.

In the restaurant industry, that’s not a good thing.

“At some point, you just have to say, do you kind of just keep on trucking along or just kind of shut it down and hold tight?” said Alexander Figura, co-owner and chef at Dio Mio, the handmade pasta house we’ve been following throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “There’s going to be a point of diminishing returns.”

Figura and Spencer White, Dio Mio’s co-owner and chef, say their bottom line was OK — by pandemic standards — at first. Regulars and others provided an outpouring of support for the local business, which transitioned into a purely takeout and delivery restaurant less than a month ago.

The spike in sales didn’t last. Eating “out” all the time gets expensive. And a lot of the pasta spot’s customers trend younger and are part of the same industry or other ones struggling as layoffs and unemployment claims mount.

“Everybody’s getting fired,” White said. “The restaurant industry was forced to shut down right off the bat. Bartenders were the first to go, and now it’s just the trickle-down effects where everybody’s getting fired. Our demographic — the younger demographic — everyone’s getting axed.”

Dio Mio and other restaurants need to at least break even to keep going. Figure and White have to sell enough food to cover their expenses: a (diminished) staff, meat, pasta, produce, takeout containers. If they can’t, they bleed green.

Closing temporarily might slow the bleeding for the business owners, but employees would lose their paychecks. Food and container suppliers would have one less customer.

Dio Mio is down to six employees, not including Figura and White, from 16. Only three are full-time.

Loans and grants are exactly the kind of thing the restaurateurs need to keep them afloat as they wait for normal to return. But while they’ve applied for various loans and grants from the Small Business Administration, the city government and other federal programs, they say there’s no indication of if or when they’ll receive the money.

Dio Mio is on a wait-and-see basis, week to week.

“I think we’re all just trying to figure out ways to survive,” Figura said. “And some of those ways for some restaurants are just shutting down until they can open back up. We all understand that, too.”

White had a grim prediction for the industry citywide: “I think this week and next week you’re going to see most restaurants saying they’re going to be done.”

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