Denver— Bright Marten was intended to be a Denver mainstay, bringing locals together over fried chicken and frosé. Instead, owner Jared Riggs' dream was dashed by COVID.
"I feel like we're kind of the canary in the coal mine," Riggs told CBS News.
Like nearly six out of 10 restaurants nationwide, Riggs saw his business plummet by more than half as the Omicron variant surged and forced him to shut down his restaurant.
"It's probably harder in 2021 than it was in 2020 for us," he said.
The Omicron variant and inflation were a double whammy that made keeping his restaurant open unsustainable.
"Staffing was a big one," Riggs said. "I've actually been, like, the dishwasher here for the last four months."
Riggs was approved for aid from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, a $28.6 billion federal program to help struggling restaurants. But it ran out of money after just one-third of applicants received help.
Chook Charcoal Chicken, a Denver-area restaurant, also missed out on COVID relief. Now the Omicron variant and staffing shortages are clipping the restaurant's wings. The restaurant's chief operating officer Elizabeth Nicholas said rising costs are also a challenge — chicken prices jumped 8% in a week last month.
"It's hard to navigate," Nicholas told CBS News. "It's totally brace for impact."
It's gotten so tough that one in four Colorado restaurants say they are thinking about shutting down in the next six months. It's not just an issue in Denver, it's an issue facing restaurants across the country.
Nationally, 91% of restaurants have reported difficulty hiring and 89% have raised prices, according to the Independent Restaurant Coalition. As many as 80% say they are in danger of closing without assistance.
"We are on the verge of an extinction event for this industry," Independent Restaurant Coalition executive director Erika Polmar told CBS News. "It's that dire."
But further COVID relief remains a nonstarter in Washington, D.C.