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'Inside We're Dying': Denver Restaurant Owners Battle COVID & Mental Anguish

DENVER (CBS4) - Dana Rodriguez shut down one of her two restaurants mid-week. Super Mega Bien sits cross the street north of downtown is Work & Class which she plans to close on Sunday.

"It's pretty sad," said Rodriguez.

The toll of the pandemic has cost her financially and mentally.

"When something like this happens, it's unexpected, no one was prepared. Our government doesn't know what to do, what rules. The restaurants need help financially in different ways and we're not getting anything. It's almost like getting punished."

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She has spent sleepless nights trying to figure out what to do. Day by day it's gotten more difficult.

"You create a family in your businesses. You create a connection with the community… If I don't get a paycheck, I want to make sure my dishwasher gets a paycheck. They have family, they have kids, they have people they can feed and all of that stuff."

Rodriguez is a story of American excellence and achievement. She came to America from Mexico, started working as a dishwasher in a restaurant on Larimer Street in the 90s and worked her way up. Three times she's now been nominated for a regional chef award by the James Beard Foundation.

Her two restaurants are destinations for foodies in Denver. Adversity is not an issue, she thrives on stress, works long hours and shares bundles of energy with those around her.

"In the Latino community, you never think about you're going to break down, you're going to go down, you're always the strongest person. I'm a single mom with three kids. I'm like, you ever going to give up? Hell no," she said.

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Other restaurant owners talk about her with reverence.

"Most incredible person in our industry," shared a competitor owner of another Denver restaurant group. "She's unreal."

But the pandemic has hurt every part of her business. Her currency along with food, is service. They share smiles and experiences.

"We feel they need it more than we do, but inside we're dying." The list includes, layoffs, restaurants going under and people hurting. "You start feeling like, a knot in your throat."

It's manifestations include constant worry.

"Eventually it feels like, I'm running out of options. I'm running out of things."

She began to lose her ability to exercise. It hit her in a yoga class.

"I have to leave my class in the middle of the class because I start feeling sick. And I'm like everything is getting hot on my head, what is going on? I have go out and I'm like I feel nauseous, I feel dizzy and I'm like, and I'm like, maybe I overworked myself or whatever."

She would cry without provocation and think about loss.

"It's interesting because you're always giving, giving, giving and you don't put attention to, oh my God, why am I getting so stressed and so angry these days? Like, maybe because I'm losing my businesses."

Her doctor finally advised her she should go to the hospital. She spent three days there. She had conversations about why she was having difficulties.

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"They say 'you're depressed, you're stressed,' and I say '100%, I know I am stressed.'"

After she came out of the hospital this week, she decided to take a break. She closed Super Mega Bien. Work & Class will close Sunday. She plans to re-open in a month or two, but bleeding money every day and having her own troubles she needs a break.

She's showing more strength after her hospital stay. It would be unwise to stand in her way when she gets things going again.

"Pull out a little bit and refuel and then get ready to kick ass again next year."

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