Restaurants, families find help thanks to Steamboat Local Love | SteamboatToday.com
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Restaurants, families find help thanks to Steamboat Local Love

After being closed to in-person dining local restaurants have been relying on takeout in order to survive the economic hardships of the pandemic. Jon Schafer and Bart Kounovsky started the Steamboat Local Love challenge to inspire more people to get takeout while asking organizations and individuals to make donations to help save Steamboat Springs' struggling restaurant industry. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s been a rough go for restaurant owners like Rex Brice, who on Monday expressed his appreciation for the community, which he said has supported his businesses during the pandemic.

“The restaurant business is a nickel-and-dime business, and at this point, every penny counts,” said Brice, who owns and operates Rex’s Family of Restaurants in Steamboat Springs. “It does make a difference … all the different efforts that you’re seeing from people getting carry out to Steamboat Local Love to what the county and the city are doing. All of those pieces do make a difference, and that’s important for people to know.”

Restaurant owners across Steamboat have found themselves in survival mode since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March.



Brice has faced a number of challenges and had to adjust, and he said it’s been struggle.

The dilemma facing restaurants, which recently saw in-person dining closed due to new stricter health protocols, inspired Jon Schafer, Bart Kounovsky and a few others to create Steamboat Local Love, a local program that asks people to commit to ordering more takeout and asks individuals and businesses to make donations that will be used to purchase gift cards from local restaurants. Those cards are then given to the LiftUp of Routt County food bank, which distributes them to families identified as food insecure.



The program began in early December, and as of Monday, $53,000 in donations from businesses had been received, and another $44,860 had been donated by individuals. People also have pledged to purchase 626 more takeout meals than they normally would have.

“It’s been amazing and heartwarming watching the whole community come together and step up,” Schafer said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but some of the messages that we are receiving are just amazing.”

Families can get help from Steamboat Local Love

The gift cards will be distributed by Dec. 20 to local residents through LiftUp of Routt County’s food bank, which has a list of roughly 300 Routt County residents who have been identified as needing food assistance. Any food-insecure individuals in Routt County who would like to register as a LiftUp food bank client should apply directly to LiftUp at liftuprc.org or in person for drive-up service at one of the food bank locations in Steamboat, Oak Creek or Hayden.

The holidays are a tough time for a lot of people, and Schafer said the way the community has come out to support this effort has been humbling. He said he got a message from one family that has decided to forgo giving Christmas gifts to one another this year and instead is making a donation to the Local Love program.

“That almost moved us all to tears when we saw that message, and they said they were telling their neighbors, and their neighbors are now going to do the same thing,” Schafer said. “That pretty much says it all. If I had to encapsulate the spirit that we were trying to tap into — just the sense of community that we have in Steamboat and how much we look out for each other — that’s it.”

Steamboat Local Love is in its finally push, and Schafer said Dec. 20 is the deadline to make a donation. At that point, the law firm of Paul Sachs, PC, will total the donations, and gift certificates will be purchased then given to LiftUp for distribution the following day.

“I mean the community just overwhelmed us with their support for this program,” Kounovsky said. “I just can’t describe my feeling for this community and how they’ve supported both our restaurants and the families in need.

“In addition to our program, we really feel that others have been out in the community doing their own part in regards to helping support the restaurants,” he added.

Dave Pepin, who owns Yampa Valley Sandwich Co. with partner Pete Boniface, said he has been encouraged by the Local Love program and how people have supported it and also increased their to-go orders from his restaurant.

“I could not be more thankful, as a business owner, to see such community support,” Pepin said. “Our business is not our business without the community.”

Schafer said his involvement with the Steamboat Local Love program has been eye opening.

“I’ve spoken to just about every restaurant owner who’s opted into the program, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s worse than I thought,” Schafer said. “Every single restaurant owner that I spoke with is incredibly appreciative of what we’re doing, but they’ve told me in no uncertain terms they don’t know if they are going to make it to the winter.”

There are currently 27 restaurants participating in the program. To donate to Steamboat Local Love, visit steamboatlocallove.com.


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