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Colorado restaurants still struggling, more than 2 years after pandemic began

Restaurant owners say rising food prices and labor shortages are getting worse.

DENVER — A Labor Day tradition is back at Denver's Civic Center Park for the first time since 2019. Thousands of people are enjoying the Taste of Colorado this weekend. 

It's a welcome sight for restaurant owners and food vendors, but their problems are not nearly over.

"On the outside looking in, things look fantastic, but in reality, it isn't," said Chris Fuselier, owner of the Blake Street Tavern in Lodo.

Fuselier said food businesses are under tremendous financial pressure right now due to the rising cost of food and supplies, and the shortage of workers.  

"It's really tough. We think we're going to make money, but then this goes up in price, and this goes up in price," Fuselier said. "It's hard to explain to a customer that the burger that cost $12 two and a half years ago, we have to charge you $15."

According to the Colorado Restaurant Association, 46% of restaurant owners say business conditions are worse now than they were three months ago. And 64% say they don't have enough employees to support customer demand.

"We just recently hired 25 people at Blake Street, and we've lost already 10 of them," Fuselier said.

Fuselier said he's still seeing restaurants closing downtown on a regular basis, and he does not see it getting better anytime soon.

"I don't. I was hoping by now. Maybe a year from now, maybe longer," Fuselier said. 

One positive note, according to Fuselier, is that customers are tipping more these days than they did before the pandemic.

Fuselier said the average tip at Blake Street Tavern is now close to 20%, about 5% higher than it was pre-pandemic.

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