AURORA, Colo.— When Michael and Estefania Dries purchased Colorado Catering Company last year, they knew they'd have to work hard to achieve their dream, but had no idea they'd have to battle a pandemic.
"If we were gambling, it was definitely the worst time ever," Michael said. "We hit double zeroes on that."
The couple had 30 events scheduled their first month, but those events were canceled because of the novel coronavirus.
They had to cut staff.
"I've been a corporate chef, but never had to let 30 people go. It was heart breaking," he said.
The Dries applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, and were told they hadn't owned the business long enough.
Eventually the rules changed, so they re-applied and received a $150,000 loan.
"It allowed us to do a lot of things we couldn't do without income," Michael said. "We got to bring some staff back."
He said they took "lemons and made lemonade."
Because catering was slow, the staff, who was eager to work, deep scrubbed the kitchen, cleaned the vans, re-did menus and detailed coolers.
"Whatever we could do to keep people busy, we did," he said.
He added they even had some roof repair work done and gutters cleaned.
Estefania said the loan didn't cover the entire payroll.
She said they still struggled to pay rent as well as phone, Xcel Energy and insurance bills.
Estefania said the majority of their business is corporate-related, like boxed lunches for business meetings, but with many business people working remotely, that side of their business dried up, so they focused on the social side, like wedding events.
Michael said they had a strong wedding season, but it only lasted about two months. Then, as COVID-19 cases began rising again and restrictions were increased, business dropped again.
Eight months after making the purchase, they're still afloat, with plans for a big wedding season in 2021.
Like many other small business owners, the Dries are champing at the bit, hoping to get a crack at another PPP loan.
Some banks expect to start accepting applications Monday.
"I already emailed the bank a couple of times asking when they're going to be open," Estefania said.
She said she's counting on the money to bring at least five staff members back. She said hiring a few more people will provide some much needed relief to the manager and two existing staff members, who have been doing all of the work.
"Our GM is doing deliveries, our sales person is doing deliveries, and getting some help in the kitchen will be nice," she said.
Michael said the loan will be a lifeline.
"It really will," he said. "It will be the most important thing to us. ... We should be making 15 times what we're making every month in income, and we're not. So to pay the two staff that we have is very difficult. I haven't been paid in the six months. It's tough to get through with that, but that PPP allows us to put me on the payroll, and my staff to come back in."
Michael said the loan will allow them to put money into things that haven't been able to take care of.
"There's still wear and tear on things," he said. "We still have minimum deliveries. Trucks still break down. We had to fix our water heater. I don't have income for that."
Estefania said Colorado Catering Company is their dream, and that failure is not an option.
"This is our world," she said. "We put everything on here. There is no room for failure."