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If this were a normal year, we’d just push ourselves off the table after the ten-day food orgy that’s usually Denver Restaurant Week. But this is not a normal year.
On March 5, 2020, five days after the finale of last year’s Denver Restaurant Week – the sixteenth annual celebration of the city’s culinary scene that coincides with a slow season for restaurants – Colorado recorded its first COVID-19 case. Through March 17, all restaurants across the state were closed to anything other than takeout and delivery. At the end of May, most were able to reopen their dining rooms with very limited capacity, but it was a tough, hard time for the catering industry.
To help businesses hard hit by the pandemic, Visit Denver hosted a special Fall Denver Dining Week that began November 13 and ran through November 22 – two days after the dining rooms suddenly closed again when the COVID-19 cases increased.
At the beginning of the new year, the dining rooms were finally allowed to reopen – again under limited capacities; Since then, restrictions have eased further, with restaurants now having 50 percent capacity. Still, the industry needs all the help it can get, so Visit Denver will be hosting another Denver Restaurant Week soon. This year’s edition has been postponed by two months to a more terrace-friendly weather and runs from April 23 to May 2.
“We’ve done this for seventeen years in a row, but it has never meant more to restaurants and the community than it did this year,” said Richard Scharf, President and CEO of Visit Denver (and long ago bartender at iconic Duffy’s Shamrock). “Our nationally recognized and award-winning culinary scene is a large part of Denver’s brand and destination appeal, and these restaurants and their hardworking staff need our support more than ever.”
Restaurant registrations have only just begun; 254 took part in February 2020, 187 registered last autumn. Visit Denver expects a large turnout this spring as the introduction of vaccinations further reduces COVID-19 numbers and fewer restrictions on restaurants. The participating restaurants are once again offering multi-course meals at prices of US $ 25, US $ 35 or US $ 45 – and they will be available for takeout, delivery and personal dining in the house or on the patio.
And as if one needed more reasons to dine for a good cause this spring, the DRW dates overlap with a very good one: Project Angel Heart, which has been providing meals for people with HIV / AIDS and other ways of life for thirty years – threatening conditions, had to convert its traditional fundraising campaign in April, Dining Out for Life, into Dining IN for Life. That was just the beginning of the changes the organization went through in 2020. Chef Brandon Foster suddenly passed away on a hike last summer, and Project Angel Heart just introduced new Chef Brett Newman in February, the same month that it served its 8th millionth meal.
For its big fundraising drive in 2021, Project Angel Heart had already planned a week-long event from the end of April and not reserved a single day for Dining Out for Life when it learned that the dates would overlap with Denver Restaurant Week.
“It was an accident, but in the end it will be a lucky coincidence,” said Tera Prim, new vice president of development at Project Angel Heart. After speaking with Visit Denver, the organization moved restaurant dates slightly to align with Denver Restaurant Week.
And that’s not the only shift. In the past, all participating restaurants agreed to donate a percentage of the Dining Out for Life tab to the Angel Heart project; Given a difficult year for restaurants, the organization had already decided to make this optional. (Project Angel Heart will star those spots that are still donating a percentage “to our trusted donor base,” notes Prim.) Instead, Project Angel Heart will suggest ways in which diners can help through participating restaurants – and now Denver Restaurant Week will share these suggestions in his own messages.
“There are great cross-marketing opportunities,” says Prim.
And not a good excuse for not helping. So plan on going out and eating in late April – be it at a DRW or Dining Out for Life restaurant (the lists are sure to overlap), or by grabbing a take-out at a participating location.
Both Denver Restaurant Week and Dining Out for Life run from April 23rd to May 2nd. Denver Restaurant Week menus will go live here on March 31st. In the meantime, Project Angel Heart is in the process of moving a few details about Dining Out for Life on its website; Watch out for updates here.
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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; She has been an editor since then. She is a regular at the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a true journalist in John Sayles’ Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton in flip-flops, and received numerous national awards for her columns and features.