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Denver restaurant owner collects 2 million signatures for more pandemic relief

The owner of the Duo Restaurant said he had to lay off staff to stay open, losing money with only to-go orders.

DENVER — Local restaurants benefitted from loans and relief from the government at the beginning of the pandemic. 

Now the money has run dry and restaurant owners like Stephanie Bonin, are left to figure out how they can stay open. 

The street in front of Bonin's restaurant, Duo, in the Highlands is quiet these days. 

"COVID has taken so much joy out of everyone’s lives and for the restaurant industry that’s no different," said Bonin. "Small businesses don’t have deep pockets to be able to bounce back from situations like this. That’s where the call for economic relief is coming from."

> The video above aired on Nov. 23 about a restaurant owner who faced the toughest decision of his career: lay off staff or stay open during COVID surge.

All the outdoor dining tables are locked up for the winter, the front door is closed to customers and inside, Bonin weighs the reality that help may not be coming.

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This lead to Bonin's creating a petition on Change.org for more pandemic relief, and has nearly two million signatures.

"The petition asked for $2,000 a month ongoing through the pandemic," said Bonin. "Congress doesn’t seem to be reacting to those numbers, but people like me on the ground, we’re living it. We’re saying very clearly, we need help. Where are you right now?"

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A year ago her restaurant employed 22 people. Now they’re down to a team of nine doing take-out orders, losing money every day they stay open.

Duo received a PPP loan in the spring, but that money came and went. Nine months into the pandemic and only one $1,200 stimulus check later, she’s pleading with the federal government to help. 

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In Lafayette, Lillian Lieb and her mother Jules are also struggling. They’ve owned Morning Glory Café for the past nine years. 

They also got PPP loans. But, like Duo in Denver, that money is gone, along with nearly two-thirds of their staff since the start of the pandemic.

"When it comes to what they talk about as relief, it’s a band-aid for a gaping wound," Lieb said. "You can’t employ people when you don’t have any sales. Right now our sales are maybe a fourth, a fifth, even a tenth of what they were before."

The Colorado state legislature passed a series of bills this week aimed at helping small businesses and those who are unemployed. Still, restaurant owners say they need more help.

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"They’re saying we need you to do the same thing again but we don’t have any help to offer you," Bonin said.

Restaurants have closed their doors to diners before during this pandemic, but this time they’re left wondering if the help will ever come. 

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