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Ivan Utrera, founder and president of Rodizio Grill, earlier this month wrote the following letter to the Colorado Restaurant Association about state and local restrictions.

Rodizio Grill owner Ivan Utrera on the painful impact of state restrictions in Colorado

Denver-based operator gives voice to the frustration felt across the restaurant industry

Rodizio Grill is a 19-unit Brazilian churrascaria concept, offering all-you-can-eat tableside service of grilled meats, as well as an extensive food bar with composed salads. Its founder and president, Ivan Utrera, earlier this month wrote the following letter to the Colorado Restaurant Association about state and local restrictions.

As of Nov. 17 in the city and county of Denver, where the original Rodizio Grill is located, all indoor dining is closed and outdoor dining is limited to groups from the same household. Bars are closed.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said the limits imposed on bars are necessary to curb the spread of the pandemic.

Earlier this month, commenting on record levels of fatalities from COVID-19 and increased risk of contracting the illness, Polis said, “People always ask, well, why can’t we hang out and go to bars and all that? The normal way we socialize would lead to tragic levels of loss of life. … The best thing that we can do to save additional lives is to avoid socializing with people outside of our homes, keep a distance from others and wear our masks whenever we’re around others.”

Though some federal relief is coming, here's what Utrera has to say about state and local dining room closures:

Ivan_Utrera.jpgWe are a landmark in Denver. We call Denver our birthplace locally and in all of our national media. We hosted the Broncos for dinner after their first national championship. We have been recognized by Nation’s Restaurant News (Hot Concept award in 1999), USA Today, The Washington Post and CBS, among many other national media. Before the pandemic we were operating 23 restaurants in 13 states.

The pandemic was a blow to our business, as you are all well aware. But at least there was some government help to try to get us through that stage, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and emergency loans. When the reopenings started, we gradually started to get to a "survivable" stage. Four of our units couldn't come back (for several reasons, but mostly because of stricter local regulations) and we lost them forever. We kept plugging along.

Now let's focus on Denver. With zero relief from our landlord, we owed and had to pay all past due and current rent obligations, even for the entire time we were forced to close. The PPP funds were only enough to cover payroll. On top of that, Denver had the strictest restrictions we faced anywhere

Takeout does not work for our concept. With $700 per week in to-go sales, we could not even cover utilities for our 8,500-square-foot space, so we had to stop doing it as we were losing more money than we would if we stayed closed altogether.

We were finally able, in the last four to six weeks before Thanksgiving and with a lot of marketing expenses, to reach a break-even level. With that, we were confident we were going to survive. But then, just before Thanksgiving, Polis decided to close us down again. And given numerous statements he has made and more importantly, the actions he has taken by closing all indoor dining while allowing cannabis dispensaries, liquor stores and big-box retailers remain open, he has vilified bars and restaurants. He has not given us any indication or hope that he is going to change his mind anytime soon. On Oct. 14, Polis recommended to “support small businesses, like our restaurants, and keep building back our economy stronger than before.”

How will restaurants be supported when they are closed?

Our managers and staff won't have anything to celebrate in December, when normally this is the time of the year they can afford Christmas for their families and pay for tuition etc., because of the usually high sales volume and tips at this time of the year. And to add insult to injury, the city of Denver sent us a letter last week about a sales tax increase as of Jan 1 by 0.5%, which represents a 11.6% increase over the current rate.

Seriously? Denver and Colorado are going by way of California. Kick us while we are down. Their unwise, unfounded decisions will cause a lot of mental health issues and terrible financial disaster to tens of thousands of honest, hard-working people. They can intellectualize their decisions, but based on results it will only hurt everyone. And what are they offering in return in relief? Nothing. And I would not be surprised if the next tax hike is going to be on real estate, which will drive our occupancy costs even higher, making sure we cannot stay in business.

We had more than 1,500 employees nationwide before the pandemic. Do you know how many have gotten COVID to date? Less than 5%, and the governor chooses to highlight restaurants as

a major source of spread? Seriously? One can find arguments to go either way. Why focus on the few that say restaurants are a source? Why not focus on the studies that show it is not a major source of spread? Why pick winners and losers? Dispensaries, liquor stores, big-box retailers, "tents outside restaurants with no circulating air" all are open and doing great.

So again, nobody is doing anything to help us in Colorado. And I am not speaking alone. I know dozens of other restaurant owners and they all feel the same way, and they are facing the same challenges I am outlining here. Where is the help? Where are the legislations and legislators to protect us? Where is the help in dealing with stopping landlords from evicting us? Where are the extra funds to help us since we are not allowed to open our doors for dine-in?

Why not find good practices in other cities and states? Utah has dealt with this in a much smarter and pro-business way. Read about Shop in Utah, an amazing program, using federal dollars, to help restaurants by refunding discounts restaurants give to their customers, to incentivize them to dine in. How about a letter to Congress from your organization pleading for help?

Now is not time for political polarization, but it is time for unification. It is time for the survival of the people that believe in the state, that believe and have lived a 25-year life of investing millions in creating jobs and fostering happiness in everyone who walks through our doors. Let me finish by sharing with you our mission statement, which we hold true to our hearts:

“As ambassador of Brazil, we welcome you to our home and invite you to celebrate with us the warmth, alegria and abundance of Rodizio Grill's authentic Brazilian dining experience.”

But unfortunately, we cannot welcome guests into our home when our home is still closed.

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