Nothing put the kibosh faster on the nation’s restaurants and dining establishments faster than the COVID-19 pandemic. With public health officials rapidly ordering the closure of public places where people gather in an effort to reduce the transmission rate of the novel coronavirus, eateries were forced to close their doors to table service. But, take-out is still permitted and Telluride’s dining establishments are approaching the limitation creatively, keeping kitchen staffs employed and feeding the community.
Josh Klein and Melisa Pignataro own Smuggler’s Brewpub, a local and visitor favorite that normally would be open during the off-season. Closed since state and local public health orders went into effect in March, the restaurant has stayed open for take-out only, per those orders. While business hasn’t been what it would be under normal circumstances, Klein said keeping his kitchen staff employed is what motivates him.
“Not only are we serving the community, but it’s really important to us to keep these guys in action,” he said. “They all have kids and families to support. It’s important for them to be able to sustain their lives here.”
Even though Klein reported Smuggler’s is doing about a third of what would be his normal levels this time of year, he said, “It’s better than nothing.”
He and Pignataro have always considered their staff to be family and they intend to support them in any way possible. “We feel good about it because it’s what we should do,” he said.
“We’re feeling the love and warmth from the community,” Pignataro added. “We’ve been getting generous gratuities. It’s important to these families.”
In addition to filling online orders, Klein’s staff has also been busy with deep cleaning and maintenance. And, Klein has been working getting his online ordering platform up to speed.
Smuggler’s is currently offering a 20 percent discount “to try to fuel the fire,” and hours are every day from noon-8 p.m. They also offer their craft beers in 32-ounce crowlers.
Steamies Burger Bar in Telluride and Shake N Dog Grub Shack in Mountain Village are also open for take-out business. Stanya Gorraiz is co-owner of the two businesses and, like Klein, refers to her staff as family. Though forced to let some of their crew go, she was able to keep a couple of key staff on the payroll. She said her whole family has been filling in the gaps.
“It’s a new reality,” she said, adding that her kids have been balancing schoolwork with work. “Everyone does something to help out.”
Gorraiz said that the shift from table service to strictly take-out was not drastic, as much of their business is normally to-go orders.
“We’re already set up for that,” she said. “It’s going well, though the numbers are not as strong as they would have been.”
Being to-go only also motivated Gorraiz to launch the restaurant’s online ordering platform, as well as introduce some new items like a salmon salad and veggie ramen bowls. Shake N Dog in Heritage Plaza is open Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m., weather depending, and Steamies is open seven days a week from 11 a.m.-8 p.m.
“Our staff is happy to be working and very grateful,” she said. “Everyone’s just trying to do their best.”
Other restaurant owners, like 221 South Oak’s Eliza Gavin, are taking a novel approach to circumstances beyond their control. Gavin, a nationally renowned chef, does not offer a full menu, nor does she keep regular hours, and she’d normally be closed for off-season until May. But, she understands that “people are tired of cooking and want something easy.”
She and her sous chef prepare a single meal for two, available on just Thursdays and Fridays, in order to keep things streamlined and to hold down costs. It’s a concept she said she’s always wanted to try. The response, Gavin said, has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’m asking the community to take a leap with us and trust our product and flavors,” Gavin said. “So many have taken that leap and it’s been truly rewarding.”
Her clientele, she said, have sometimes been clad in shelter-at-home wear — read: pajamas — but not everyone shows up casually attired.
“Most pick up in their PJ’s but we had one gentleman in a sport coat and slacks last week,” Gavin said. “When I complimented his outfit, he beamed and said, ‘It’s date night.’”
Another customer told Gavin she’d be breaking out the good silverware for her meal.
The next 221 carryout dinner for two — wine is included — is April 16 and 17. Order by Wednesday at 221southoak.com.
“At 221 we just want to make a couple nights a week different from the rest,” Gavin said of her unique approach to take-out. “We want it to feel like going to a dinner party. You wouldn’t receive a menu for a dinner party. You just show up, drink wine, enjoy simple fare and enjoy your loved ones.”