Mark Mares, owner of Estela’s Mill Stop Cafe in Pueblo, Colo., cleans tables as dinner service is take out only. (PULP)

‘It’s like opening a brand new restaurant’ Pueblo eateries shift again under COVID-19 rules

After Colorado Gov. Polis declared it safe for restaurants to reopen dine-in services, popular Pueblo eateries are doing everything they can to pick business up and keep customers safe.

Under Gov. Polis’ latest guidelines, the state’s restaurants are allowed to reopen as soon as May 25, given they operate at 50 percent capacity with a 50-customer maximum. Six feet of space is required between tables and parties must be limited to eight guests.

Dine-in services at restaurants and bars in Colorado have been closed since March 16, just one day before what is usually the biggest day on the calendar for Pueblo’s Shamrock Brewing Co., an Irish-inspired brewpub and restaurant at 108 W. 3rd Street.

“I understand the safety of the issue,” said Gordon Cossar, general manager of Shamrock. “We all do our part to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy, but I will be honest; it hurt for business. It hurt extremely.”

Without dine-in services, Shamrock began providing take-out services on Friday nights with a take-out menu limited to its most popular items including Green Chili Mac, Fish & Chips, and Scotch Eggs. Shamrock is set to reopen dine-in services Thursday, May 27 with menu items like Burgers, the Reuben, and Corned Beef set to return.

“I am just going around with a tape measure between tables and the chairs trying to make sure we got enough room for everything,” Cossar said. “We are trying to figure out how to reset our dining room. Our dining room is a little thin. We are losing quite a bit of seating that way but we will make due… It’s like opening up a brand new restaurant.”

La Forchetta da Massi began serving authentic Italian wines and cuisine on Pueblo’s Union Avenue, nearly five years ago. The restaurant is co-owned by Chef Massimiliano Innocenti and his wife, Daimi. Massimiliano, known as Massi among customers, comes from the North Italian province of Varese, Lombardy near Milan.

“Everything is fresh, made from the scratch,” Massi said. “All the sauces for the pasta, the sauces we make in the house are fresh. We have a few traditional dishes we probably just make here… Our food is more Italian without Americanization. It’s all good, you know, it’s different. I just tried to do something different.”

With a seating capacity built for around 55 customers indoors and 40 customers in the outdoor patio area, Massi said he is in the process of reorganizing the restaurant to best follow reopening guidelines. This includes figuring out how many tables can be placed in the restaurant six feet apart from one another at 50 percent seating capacity.

“The good thing for us is that we have the patio in the summer,” Massi said. “We’ll take advantage of the patio which we don’t have in the winter. I know, more or less, with about 40, 45 people how it works because that’s the way it works all winter… we still probably have half of what we usually make in summer but at least we survive.”

While many restaurants in Pueblo will be reopening in the upcoming weeks, Estela’s Mill Stop Cafe will be sticking to a takeout and curbside only model through the month of June. Owner-manager Mark Mares said the restaurant will reevaluate and consult with other restaurants after a two-week vacation period.

“Our restaurant is so small,” Mares said. “We have 13 tables in here and with the 50 percent capacity seven tables. We were just discussing that the other day about where we’d position them and everything. Then with the disposable menus and all the other different things like that, it’s not feasible for use right now.”

Even with the tables seating flipped over chairs and not customers at 317 Baystate Ave., Mares said Mill Stop still sees consistent business from Puebloans eager to support small businesses. The restaurant’s takeout services, which were offered before COVID-19 restrictions, have been successful due to a combination of Facebook marketing, word-of-mouth, and customer loyalty.

“The people of Pueblo… They have just been so supportive of us,” Mares said. “They are tipping the waitresses and the cooks here really well. They are just… repeat coming back and every time they come, ‘We’re supporting local. We’re supporting local,’ which we really appreciate.”