These especially hard-hit businesses are fighting to survive and to save their staff.
At first glance, Intersections, Northfield’s cozy breakfast spot, and Cattivella, Eastbridge’s sophisticated Italian dinner locale, seem to have little in common. Their menus are at very different price points. One specializes in breakfast and the other in dinner. A month into the stay-at-home orders, however, as both owners speak to how they are adapting, some common themes emerge: gratitude for their customers and concern for their valued employees.
“People like the atmosphere, and they come to meet other people and have a conversation,” says Rick Humbert, who owns Intersections. The stay-at-home orders make that impossible, so he has had to shift to takeout orders. Delivery did not prove to be a great option: “Trying to deliver eggs is not a good idea….They’re great hot, but they’re not good cold.”
Intersections now relies on carryout to sustain the business, offering a free kid’s breakfast with every adult breakfast to entice people. Humbert or his remaining staff member meets people at the door with their orders, disinfecting the keypad after each customer. “The good news is… [people] like what they like and that’s what they come here for—items on our menu like chicken and waffles or shrimp and grits with the red sauce,” draw regulars in from as far away as Evergreen. “Even though we don’t get a lot of volume,” he says, “the community is very, very generous.” He is already thinking how he can expand the menu and include more lunch options post-pandemic.
For the present, Humbert is partnering with several nonprofits, both to help feed the homebound and to keep his doors open. Intersections recently gave away 100 Easter “basket” meals with support from the Epworth Foundation. He continues to explore creative ways to provide meals to hospital workers and low-income folks. Still, Humbert has had to let go of all but one of his staff as he reduced days and hours of operation; he says many are eligible for unemployment, and he is optimistic that the very special team he has put together over the years will return to work when things return to normal. “We’ve been blessed,” he says, talking about his staff, sharing the story of one “kid” who had come up through a really challenging home situation: “He wanted a break and he’s been with me for two and a half years now, and he’s never missed a shift…no one would give him a shot, and I gave him a shot…he’s like an official part of the family.”
Cattivella’s owner and Executive Chef Elise Wiggins speaks of her staff in a similar way, as family. Like Humbert, she’s cut her hours of operation and her payroll to keep her doors open. “I’ll rotate a cook or a prep cook or dishwasher to come in, one maybe two days a week…they’re not getting their five days, their 40 hours like they normally do,” she says, but it’s part of her effort to retain the team she had so carefully assembled. She is grateful for the outpouring of community support the restaurant has received, both in the form of a GoFundMe page that raised thousands to support laid-off staff, and the takeout orders that continue to help her pay workers.
Part of the joy of Cattivella is the experience: dining amid the bustle, being waited on, and watching the chefs work their magic in the open kitchen before the wood-fired oven. Its takeout business boomed the first week of the stay-at-home order, and began to taper after the first week: “I knew that was going to happen because everybody’s trying to support so many restaurants, and they want everybody to survive, but that can only go so far because eating out is expensive and there’s just so much people can do.” She knows some of her customers are likely working fewer hours or have lost their jobs, too.
Wiggins began offering delivery, surprising customers as the local celebrity chef making housecalls. Cattivella has also innovated by offering a discounted family meal deal. She says those promotions are going well, but admits that it’s very challenging: “I’m not making any money. I am in the hole.” Wiggins had completed a big build-out of her space in 2019 to add more seating and is 3 years into a 10-year lease that has been deferred but that will still need to be paid. She takes no salary. “The money that I’m making goes to… the food that we order, the electric bill, and my employees.”
Intersections (http://intersectionsof.com/), at the Northfield Shops in Conservatory Green, is now open Fri.-Sun. from 8am-1pm, at 8241 E. Northfield Blvd. Call 303-963-5909 to place an order for pickup and they will meet you at the door; you can also order using the Heartland app. Cattivella (www.cattivelladenver.com), in the Eastbridge Town Center at 10195 E. 29th Dr., is open Tue.-Sat. from 3-8pm for pick up or delivery: call 303-645-3779. For both establishments, hours and days will likely change as local and state government guidelines shift.