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The Colorado Restaurant Association said the $10,000 grants could be used to offer hiring, retention or incentivize bonuses to attract and retain talent.

Update: Denver approves restaurant owner and worker grants

Owners are eligible for $10,000 and workers up to $1,500 under COVID Relief Fund-backed program

UPDATE Sept. 28, 2021: The Denver City Council on Sept. 27 unanimously approved the "Back to Work" program. Consult the Denver Economic Development & Opportunity website for details.

The Denver City Council is set to vote on a new grant program that could make city and county restaurant owners eligible for $10,000 and workers up to $1,500.

The council will vote on a $1 million grant to the Colorado Restaurant Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Colorado Restaurant Association, and $500,000 to the Colorado Event Alliance, with both pools financed with monies from the Federal COVID-19 Relief Fund.

“The restaurant industry is Colorado is facing a severe labor shortage in the wake of the worst 18 months in living memory, with more than 91% of restaurants reporting in an August survey that they were struggling to hire enough staff,” said Laura Shunk, president of the Colorado Restaurant Foundation, in a statement.

“In that same survey, more than 67% of restaurants reported struggling to retain their current employees, and nine out of 10 restaurants have raised wages or changed business practices since the pandemic to attract and retain more talent,” Shunk said.

A CRA spokesperson said the restaurant association and the foundation were working with Denver Economic Development & Opportunity division on the new grant program, called “Denver Back to Work.” The city council was expected to vote on the proposal “within days,” she said.

The association said the $10,000 grants could be used to offer hiring, retention or incentivize bonuses to attract and retain talent.

“We hope that these grants will go a long way toward helping restaurants bring on more staff,” a spokesperson said. “It’s also important to note that the grants can be used for more than just hiring and retention. If workers need help paying for childcare, an underlying systemic issue that is affecting the labor shortage, these grants can be used toward those costs.”

Shunk said the Denver Back to Work program specifies that eligible employers must be located in the city or county of Denver – although the employees benefiting from the grant program can live anywhere. The applicants don’t need to be member of the CRA or the Colorado Events Alliance.

Employers are not allowed to hold grant money and must pay all directly to their employees, but the amount of each individual grant is at the employers’ discretion.

“The CRF managed $3 million in Angel Relief Fund grants for more than 3,500 local restaurant workers during the 2020 pandemic, so we’re experienced in managing this type of grant program,” Shunk said.

“Grants can be made out to workers in any amount, but assuming an average of $1,500 per grant, the ‘Denver Back to Work’ program will be able to serve 943 workers across 140 total local employers,” Shunk said.

The Colorado Restaurant Foundation was founded in 1987 as the non-profit, philanthropic arm of the Colorado Restaurant Association.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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