Denver trying to beef up restaurant workforce with $1,500 payments

Mikala Nuccio shares a laugh with customers Sept. 10 at The Hornet restaurant at 76 Broadway. (Eric Heinz photos)

Restaurants looking to maintain their workforce or hire more people could receive help though grants distributed by the Colorado Restaurant Foundation and the Colorado Event Alliance.

The Denver City Council is poised to vote soon on a $1 million grant for the restaurant foundation and a $500,000 grant for the event association paid for by federal COVID-19 relief funds. Each restaurant owner would be eligible for $10,000, to be paid to employees in amounts of about $1,500.

Employers are not allowed to retain any of the grant funding, and it must all go directly to employees.

“The restaurant industry in Colorado is still facing a severe labor shortage,” said Laura Shunk, president of the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.

Shunk said a recent survey conducted by the foundation across the state found 91 percent of restaurant owners said they are having a hard time retaining and attracting employees.

“The restaurant industry … they’re coming out of one recovery and dealing with another,” Shunk said.

Employers at restaurants can apply for the grants by stating the reasons they need the money and how they would use it, Shunk said. The restaurant foundation will distribute grants to hotels and restaurants, and the alliance will distribute funds to caterers and related businesses.

The city of Denver has proposed grants that officials say would keep or attract almost 950 restaurant industry workers and help about 140 employers.

Susan Liehe of Denver’s Economic Development and Opportunity office said with more restaurants opening, the office expected to see an influx of workers, but just the opposite has happened. She said mounting costs for some people may have driven them to other careers.

“Some of the workers from the restaurant and hospitality industry have gone away, and they may not be back,” Liehe said. “Competing with cash is only going to be one strategy. I think there are a bunch of ways that this problem is going to be solved.”

Both of the proposed grants would keep or attract almost 950 restaurant industry workers and help about 140 employers, according to the city. Employers do not need to be members of the Colorado Restaurant Association, which manages the foundation, or the Colorado Event Alliance to get a grant.

Employees do not have to have full U.S. citizenship, and are eligible even if they do not live within the city of Denver. Employers, however, must be a business within the restaurant or catering industry located within Denver city limits.

The restaurant foundation already set up a smaller grant distribution toward the beginning of the pandemic called theAngel Relief Fund, which gives funds directly to restaurant employees who have worked in the industry for at least 90 days since January 2020.

The money from the Angel Relief Fund can be used to cover hardships that include costs of losing work due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, transportation, childcare and more. Employees are eligible for up to $1,000 in assistance this year, depending on their hardship.

Mikala Nuccio shares a laugh with customers Sept. 10 at The…

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