Surviving the summer: Young Grand Lake business tries to stay afloat during pandemic
When Fawn Calvin-Braley opened her family restaurant on Halloween, she didn’t plan for it to shut down in March.
The Grand View Mountain Lodge is a hotel, restaurant and residence that opened in Grand Lake last year. Calvin-Braley, her partner and her parents-in-law started the business after visiting Grand Lake for years.
Opening in the late fall, the restaurant didn’t enjoy the booming summer season that holds most Grand Lake businesses through the winter and mud seasons. Getting the word out that the restaurant is open and ready to serve in Grand Lake has also been a challenge.
Calvin-Braley was trying to differentiate the business by offering southern and Cajun favorites. Serving dishes like fried okra, gumbo and jambalaya, word was just starting to spread about the unique spot before the COVID-19 pandemic froze Grand Lake and the country.
“Our biggest thing is we’re not trying to compete with other restaurants. We’re trying to contrast,” she said. “That is something that we always felt Grand Lake was missing. It was something new.”
But shutting down operations in March meant a hard blow to the young business.
Like many residents, Calvin-Braley came to Grand Lake because of the tranquil atmosphere offered by the small mountain town. In April and May, her business plans lay in shambles.
“You came up here to find a certain level of peace because it’s Grand County, right?” Calvin-Braley said. “Then you realize, you may not make it through the summer.”
After closing in mid-March, the restaurant started offering a to-go menu at the end of April. Now, with state regulations loosened, the business is trying to pick back up and start over — before it really got started.
Local government has been trying to help small businesses new and old. Grand Lake’s trustees passed an ordinance last week allowing businesses to expand into the greenways adjacent to them. Grand View Mountain Lodge, which already has a sizeable porch, has filed for as many extensions as possible.
While the relaxed rules on outdoor seating has allowed her business some flexibility, navigating lodging and restaurant regulations from the state and county hasn’t been easy.
The business decided not to open indoor seating as a precaution against spreading the coronavirus. On sunny days, the restaurant’s outdoor seating gives a stunning view of Baldy, and customers are able to recline in the shade.
“But on rainy days, that means we’re going to close,” Calvin-Braley explained. “That means we’re not going to make the revenue that we were hoping to make.”
Other regulations have been hard on Calvin-Braley and her employees with strict rules that seem to change every day. Last week, the county received a variance for short-term lodging from the state, but that could go away if Grand County exceeds 15 COVID-19 cases in two weeks.
Grand County has seen 10 new cases in the last two weeks, so it’s very possible that Grand View Mountain Lodge could once again lose a main source of revenue.
“Your lodging is what actually supports the restaurant when you’re a new business,” Calvin-Braley said. “They shut down the lodging, they shut us down.”
While restaurants would not close down if the variance were revoked, keeping half capacity as state regulations require is also a struggle.
“Fifty percent capacity doesn’t give a restaurant enough to survive no matter what you do,” Calvin-Braley said. “You basically cut the service industry off at the knees.”
Though the Grand View Mountain Lodge is fighting an uphill battle, Calvin-Braley said the pandemic has given the business a chance to grow and learn. As the restaurant works to serve the best experience possible, it has also been developing relationships with other businesses in Grand Lake.
Even as the town and her business face the economic fallout from the pandemic, Calvin-Braley sees the potential in Grand Lake. With the growth of the town and changes happening at the town board, she feels like Grand Lake is on the verge of a major shift in a positive direction.
“The COVID kind of puts a stamp on all of it and puts everything off another year,” she said. “But I really think it’s going to be awesome. I really do.”
Until that happens, her business will try its best to stay afloat just like many other businesses in Grand Lake.
“At this point, it’s just about surviving it,” she said. “I wish I could say my hopes were as high as they were when we purchased the property, but they can’t be. My biggest hope is not only that we survive, but that everybody in town survives.”
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