In the summer of 2020, many Colorado restaurants utilized outdoor seating to continue serving customers while complying with limited indoor seating and other safety protocols brought on by the pandemic.
However, as the year grew colder, restaurants struggled to continue serving customers in outdoor settings. A uniquely Colorado problem called for unique Colorado solutions.
To help restaurants retrofit outdoor spaces with heaters so they could continue outdoor dining in winter months, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis started the Winter Outdoor Grant Program in partnership with the Colorado Restaurant Association (CRA), the Colorado Restaurant Foundation, Xcel Energy and the Xcel Energy Foundation.
Gov. Polis encouraged Coloradans to help, saying, “I hope the public join me in supporting restaurants this winter, perhaps by experiencing these unique winter outdoor dining concepts, or by dining out or ordering takeout or delivery."
Members of the community were quick to act. Design professionals, contractors, public health officials, local fire departments, building officials and restaurant owners all pitched in to support the initiative.
Industries also were quick to support the initiative. The Xcel Energy Foundation donated $500,000 and matched donations of $50,000 up to $250,000 for every $500,000 raised.
Others chipped in to support the project too such as the Colorado Beverage Association, DoorDash and the state’s Economic Development Council's Strategic Fund.
In total, 129 businesses received funding through the program. Each business received outdoor space that offered dining spots for between 15 and 50 people.
The results have been promising. Phil Armstrong, owner of Aurum Food & Wine, a local Breckenridge chain, worked with Oregon-based Camping Yurts to build heated yurts, tent-like structures that can accommodate up to eight diners.
The success of the project was evident early on. Armstrong said the new dining areas were completely booked before their outdoor space had even been finished. Thanks to generosity from Coloradans across the state, restaurants were able to utilize outdoor dining while keeping customers comfortable and safe.
Other local restaurants followed Armstrong’s idea and developed their own outdoor seating. Creative design concepts like these sponsored by the Colorado Beverage Association became widely shared as the project took off.
The initiative was so successful that Gov. Polis announced another round of funding in December 2020 that raised an additional $1.8 million.