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'Integral' Restaurants Trying Anything To Stay Alive & Maybe Thrive Again

DENVER (CBS4) - Restaurateur Frank Bonanno is cautious about the outlook for the year ahead and says his industry must continue to adapt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Denver Milk Market will offer a take home brunch for Mother's Day to keep busy and offer customers a special experience they wouldn't make themselves.

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"The last two months since March 12 have been a complete upside down world," said Frank Bonanno, owner of Bonanno Concepts. "It's a different mind set, you're thinking about food in such a different way, what travels, what reheats."

Bonanno says Denver Milk Market is earning a small fraction of the regular sales it would normally see this time of year. The food hall with multiple dine-in options has become more of a grocery store. While customers can purchase items to cook with at home, meals to-go have also become a regular feature on weekends.

In addition to Milk Market, Bonanno Concepts owns 10 restaurants around Denver.

"That's how we're going to survive this. How can we give you our experience at home?" Bonanno told CBS4 on Monday. "If we can take those extra steps to make it a little bit special for you at your home, that's really what we're shooting for."

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Before the Coronavirus outbreak forced his business and so many others to change their operations, brunch had become one of the most popular times to visit Milk Market. They have kept their tradition of bingo brunch going with the help of the video conferencing service, Zoom. After a successful run of brunch to take home on Easter, the option will be back for families this Sunday.

"I don't think that this is something that's going to go away this summer," he said while working inside Denver Milk Market. "I think dining has changed inherently, I think it's going to be a different version of it when you look and see what it is."

Bonnano says his team has come up with dishes that can be enjoyed at home, even if you reheat them. He says it was impossible to come up with an Eggs Benedict that travels but the other options should still be a nice change for families. Avocado toast, cocktails, and upside-down pineapple french toast; all choices that would still require a lot of work and clean-up at home but can be made easily at the restaurant for takeout.

As Denver reopens and more employees will return to his restaurants, Bonanno is still worried about how to keep everyone safe. He says local and state leaders need to give more guidance on what will be required. Rather than advocating for a date convenient to him, he would prefer just to see a date announced so he can prepare.

"We're asking people to come back and I don't really know how much safer this week is compared to next week," Bonanno said. "We'd love to know what your plan is because we don't and it's very hard for us to plan."

One important source of revenue that has emerged from the pandemic is selling alcohol to-go orders. Bonanno says it will be an essential part of keeping restaurants going, so they can sell a complete experience for people to bring home.

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Denver Milk Market will celebrate two years in business this June, and it will take two years from now before it returns to the volume of customers people remember just before the outbreak, according to Bonanno. He says based on what restaurants in Hong Kong and China have already started, there is a lot more transition ahead before dining returns to what people experienced at the beginning of 2020.

He is grateful his business received assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program but worries about how he will reduce the spread as he hires back more workers, a requirement of the funding. More testing will be needed and temperature checks will be incorporated to service shifts, Bonnano said.

Customers may even be asked to sign off on their health before dining at a restaurant. Sharing food and changing utensils will all be up for restrictions in the months ahead. Examples of the high cost the industry has already paid and will suffer for the remainder of this year, as well as the suppliers and other workers who rely on restaurants for income.

"Unfortunately the restaurant business is probably the business that is been so overlooked in all of these businesses that are getting help," he said. "I don't believe that government really understood how integral a part restaurants were to our economy."

To order brunch for Mother's Day from Denver Milk Market:

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