Usually El Korita Restaurant in Willits is buzzing with energy, no matter the night of the week. Families singing happy birthday, a crowd of people at the bar ordering margaritas and a line of locals out the door, waiting for a table.
On a recent day, though, restaurant owner Tito Gamboa was the only one there.
“It’s a little bit of a weird feeling coming in and it being empty. No music, no friendly customers, regulars aren’t in here,” said Gamboa. His parents, Beto and Lupe Gamboa, started El Korita 22 years ago.
“We’ve seen kids grow up in here, and they come back from college,” Gamboa said. “It’s just kind of upsetting not being able to have that interaction with them.”
Early last week, Colorado Governor Jared Polis joined dozens of other states ordering restaurants and bars to close dine-in services temporarily because of the coronavirus.
“It’s kind hard to put into words what we’re feeling at the moment because this is our livelihood and several families depend on business,” he said. “So we’re going to try to stay open as long as we can.”
Like many restaurants in the valley, El Korita is only offering take-out and delivery. And yes, that now includes margaritas. On Friday, Colorado joined a growing number of states allowing restaurants to serve alcohol alongside food for takeout and delivery.
“We’re in it for the long run,” Gamboa said. “We’re not going to give up.”
Many restaurants are already having to cut their staff. El Korita isn’t there yet, Gamboa said, but he’s still worried.
“We’re not at the point where we’re thinking about letting anybody go, but we’re going through a hardship and hopefully the government comes up with programs where we can still help these families out,” he said.
Despite an uncertain future, Gamboa said he and his parents feel supported by their local community.
“We just want to express our gratitude and thank you guys for supporting us through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, sharing our message that we’re open,” he said. “People I don’t even know are sharing it.”
In Basalt, the owners of Mod’s Thai House are also staying open for takeout. In fact, the day before Governor Polis’ announcement, Napaporn Chansri, or, as locals know her, Mod, and her husband Manuel Diaz had already made a decision to close their in-house dining.
“I’m worried about the employees that I have, you know, three of them,” Chansri said.
“We have to be realistic, you know nobody’s going to make a profit right now,” Diaz said. “We’ll try to at least cover our operational expenses, cover employees, you know, a few hours for everybody, and honestly just put food on people’s tables because people still have to eat.”
Food isn’t the only thing they’ve been offering the community. Closing their in-house dining unexpectedly left them with extra toilet paper and a gallon of commercial sized hand sanitizer. Last week, they invited locals to come by and fill up their empty bottles.
“If there’s anything that I can help or anything that we can offer to each other, I think this is the time to show that we learn exactly how to share and help,” Chansri said.
Restaurant owners have other worries besides keeping their businesses going. For Yanina Dobarro of The Whole Empanada in the mid-valley business center, it’s school closings that have been an unexpected challenge.
The Whole Empanada is primarily an over-the-counter, take-out spot, so it’s pretty much business as usual for Dobarro so far. What isn’t business as usual, though, is having her six-year-old daughter here while schools are shut down.
“For me and I think for everybody, it’s like, ‘What are we going to do?’,” said Yanina Dobarro. “I’m a single mom, divorced, but I will bring her here.”
And taking care of her daughter isn’t the only thing on Dobarro’s mind. Every summer, she sells her Argentine-style empanadas at the Basalt and Carbondale farmer’s markets, and she just got approved for Aspen’s too, so Dobarro is waiting to see what happens come June.
“Where you really make money is in the summers. Imagine, I’m selling per farmer’s market about 300 empanadas,” Dobarro said. “It’s big for me and I was excited for it, but I’m still optimistic.”
For now, Dobarro and other local restaurant owners are hoping for a steady flow of take-out orders to keep them afloat.