The latest chapter in the Denver small business we’ve been following is about making the best of a bad situation.
We’ve used Dio Mio as a way to measure the pulse of the restaurant industry since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, when in response to the respiratory disease, the city government closed restaurant dining rooms. The handmade pasta hotspot went cold as co-owners and co-chefs Alex Figura and Spencer White were forced to layoff staff. The partners revived the business by focusing on takeout only to see sales flatten after an initial spike.
Now the Five Points restaurant in RiNo on Larimer Street will close for at least a couple of weeks as Figura and White focus on new clients: hospital workers on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dio Mio is working with Frontline Healthcare Workers and World Kitchen, two nonprofits that pay the restaurant to cater to hospital workers. The setup not only helps frontline employees, but it helps Dio Mio keep down food costs because it can be more flexible with its menu.
Dio Mio also secured a two-year loan from the Small Business Administration with a 1 percent interest rate.
“This loan will keep us on the same trajectory moving forward,” White said. “Without this loan, we wouldn’t have gone out of business, but it will keep us on an upward trend and grow the business.”
Between the loan, nonprofit business and revenue from pre-ordered meal kits (they come with how-to videos!) available to anyone fiending for noodles, the owners say they can take a break and pause some costs while maintaining a footprint in the market and feeding a good cause. They’ll use the time to make some long-planned painting, fix the air conditioning and retool the restaurant’s layout.
“We’ve been talking about it for a while, and we feel like this is a good time to do it,” Figura said.
The business still has three-fourths of its employees and has no plans for layoffs. But Figura said they’re lucky to be in the position they’re in, and that many other local restaurants don’t have the luxury.
Now the pair is focusing on reopening — whenever that may be. Denver’s emergency health orders allow restaurant dining rooms to open after May 11 in some capacity. It’s unclear, however, what that will look like. There could be caps on the number of people allowed inside at once, for example. And people might not feel comfortable participating in the once-routine practice of eating out.
“New guidelines will be released of what the future of dining in a restaurant’s going to look like, so we’ll kind of figure that out once that happens,” White said. “It’s going to be interesting.”