DENVER -- Dustin and Amy Barrett didn't know what to expect as they waited at their computer for the chance to submit an application for Denver's 5 Star program.
Applications opened Tuesday at 10 a.m. and the Barretts, who run Tables Restaurant, were constantly refreshing their web browsers until the site went live. They jokingly compared the experience to buying tickets for a hot concert at Red Rocks. But as soon as they started filling out the application, one could feel the tension in the room.
"The only thing about it is that there’s only a certain amount of people that can apply, so we want to be one of those people," said Amy Barrett.
According to city officials, 500 applications are being accepted during this first round.
The program will pre-certify businesses, such as restaurants, allowing those who qualify to offer expanded capacity. For example, Denver is now under Level Orange on the state's COVID-19 dial. Businesses certified through the 5 Star program would be allowed to operate under Level Yellow restrictions, which includes up to 50% capacity for indoor dining.
"It’s a long time to not be able to be who we are and have customers thriving in the restaurant, and so to be able to do this application and get through would mean just a ton," said Amy Barrett.
The Barretts were able to log on and submit their application but they were concerned when they didn't immediately receive a confirmation email.
"It just makes me so nervous," said Barrett as she stared at the computer screen. "How do you know if it went through?"
A spokesperson for Denver Economic Development and Opportunity said they were fielding similar concerns about confirmation emails from other business owners. She said confirmation emails will be generated after an application is submitted, but the email might not come immediately and could take up to 24 hours.
It took two hours for the Barretts to receive their confirmation email with a link to an online payment portal. Once they received the email, they were able to schedule an inspection. As part of the certification process, an inspector must visit every business to check a number of safety measures.
"We’re just hoping this 5 Star program will help us get through it and out of it, just another tool to use," said Dustin Barrett.
Tables has pivoted numerous times during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. When indoor dining was put on pause last spring, they started offering takeout. Once the restaurant was allowed to open, the owners created more space by putting up a tent in the parking lot. This winter, they added heated greenhouses to increase capacity once again.
This April, the restaurant will celebrate its 16th anniversary. The Barretts got married the same year it opened. This year they went back to their roots, offering lunch once again in an attempt to generate more revenue and keep their staff employed.
"It’s been an uphill battle the whole time, I feel like we’ve worked more hours we did than the year we opened, yeah for sure," said Dustin Barrett.