Owners of several Broomfield businesses whose in-person operations shut down in mid-March shared how they weathered the COVID-19 storm and flourished in challenging times.
Some of those business owners participated in a webinar from the Broomfield Chamber of Commerce’s Education Series “Re-Focusing and Pivoting Your Business During a Crisis,” on Thursday afternoon.
Jennifer Moriarta, owner of Broomfield’s School of Rock, was one of the featured panelists in last week’s session. School of Rock’s corporate office was helpful in offering guidance on how to work virtually and with setting up a remote lesson platform right away, she said.
By St. Patrick’s Day, it was able to hold its first remote lessons with teachers instructing from home. Part of the challenge was making sure teachers had a safe and quiet place where they could set up equipment to hold effective lessons, Moriarta said.
“So much of what School of Rock is about is the band and band rehearsal,” she said. “That’s what makes it special.”
Instead of having students play songs together, students started individually recording songs at home with their iPhone or whatever equipment they had, which they then submitted to their directors. Teachers then put the songs together using software they were well-versed in, Moriarta said. The finished product was impressive, she said, although not perfect because the sound quality wasn’t professionally recorded.
“It was heart-warming when the songs came together and to hear what they came up with,” she said. “It was a lot of work to do in that couple of months.”
The school opened doors for in-person rehearsals around June 1, she said, because while teachers were working with students, she was working on readying the space for safe use. It involved a lot of cleaning supplies, Plexiglass, stocking shelves with masks and removing furniture to accommodate students without overcrowding the building.
On June 20, the school hosted a live performance without an audience. The school worked with Dog House Music in Lafayette to professionally live stream the show with students playing while socially distanced in the studio.
“It was awesome,” Moriarta said. “Even though we didn’t get to play for a live audience, it was on Facebook and people from all over the country could watch it. Family members who normally couldn’t come to a show could watch the live performance.”
At that point, every band in the world was forced to live stream to get their music heard, she said, even the Rolling Stones.
“I told them ‘you guys have really pulled through in this difficult time, but you know have this experience,’” she said. “We’ve never thought we’d do anything like that.”
The school is kept only 50% occupied at all times now and has extended its hours to seven days a week.
The business understandably lost students in March and April, she said, but it is surviving. Over the summer they gained back some of the students who were lost or who took a break, and new students since have joined.
Enrollment is down about 15 to 17%, she said, which, considering the alternative, is not too bad. School officials and students have also learned new ways of doing things, she said, and now have the experience of live streaming and recording under their belt, which included learning about things such as license requirements. They also now know they can go to virtual classes in the event of inclement weather.
In the meantime, teachers are still teaching remote lessons for those students who are not comfortable coming into the studio or who live with people whose health is compromised. The school currently serves about 175 students; before March that number was more than 200. It had dropped as low as 130 during the shutdown.
“I feel like there are some silver linings to all this,” she said. “There are still a lot of difficulties, still worries about what’s coming in the next couple months, but we also have successfully pivoted and found new ways of doing things.”
The school will host on a fundraiser for Broomfield FISH with a show from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 19 in the School of Rock parking lot. Younger students and the house band, which is traditionally taken to Red Rocks Amphitheater, will perform.
Vipul Seth, who owns Roots Restaurant with his wife chef Madhoo Seth, started the The Gourmet Kitchen Catering in 2002. The brand has become known for its eclectic and multicultural food, Seth said.
Over the past 18 years, the couple has since grown it into three businesses, opening up Copper Leaf Event Center in 2014, a venue that hosts wedding and corporate events, and more recently opening Roots, a sit-down restaurant created during the pandemic when the other two ventures started to flag.
“Everything was going good,” Seth said. “Then COVID happened. Initially we didn’t realize the severity of what was coming.”
They focused on increasing to-go orders and delivery through the catering company, and while it worked “a little bit,” Seth said, the business was only bringing in about 5% of what it had been doing. Money from the CARES Act helped for a time, but in June the owners decided they needed to do something else to survive
On July 3, they held a soft opening for Roots and went public July 10.
The owners tried to make the experience as touchless as possible, with customers able to select menu items and pay from their phones, even for dine-in services. When customers began walking in, they realized they couldn’t turn them away and now the business is about 50% prepaid and 50% walk-in, he said. It has indoor and outdoor dining options.
The ability to support local business, and provide fresh local food, is one of the restaurant’s goals, Seth said. The owners try to procure produce from local farmers and meat suppliers and also uses vegetables, herbs, blackberries and honeydew from a farm on site.
“‘Food connects you to your roots’ was one of the concepts,” he said.”We try to use those products in our menu as well.”
Copper Leaf is still open and hosted two weddings in June and one in August. Gourmet Kitchen has also done small caterings jobs, Seth said, but the focus remains on the restaurant.
“It’s very easy for us to get tangled in problems,” Seth said. “I think it’s better to look for solutions and look at what you have. How can you best use your strengths? Trust yourself, trust in your abilities and you will come out richer – not just in money. For me it’s about growing as a person.”
As a result of this experience, they are more knowledgeable about an industry that was new to them a few months ago. Roots has actually increased exposure of the other business, he said.
“Try to look at it as a glass half full instead of a glass half empty,” Seth said.
Pete Crouse, co-owner of Infinitus Pie, said the company continues to pivot in “massive ways” that the restaurant would never have contemplated.
When COVID-19 hit, Ipie began offering delivery — something the owners avoided for years. Now they are working on procuring a space in Louisville that would be a “ghost kitchen.” The space would not offer carryout or pickup, Crouse said. It would have no branding, but would be set up with ovens to make pizza.
“It’s crazy different,” Crouse said. “Opening a store and not even having a storefront. It would be ovens, a make line and no cash — strictly credit card transactions. No telephones to take orders, but online order and online pay only.”
The store would deliver to Superior, Louisville and Lafayette.
Ipie’s restaurants at University of Colorado Boulder and Tivoli, the student union for the Auraria campus across from the Pepsi Center, are doing poorly compared to normal sales. Tivoli is doing a tenth of its normal sales, Crouse said, and owners are unclear if it will stay open.
The Broomfield and Wheat Ridge locations, which began offering delivery, are faring much better, he said, and sales have been higher than pre-pandemic sales.
“I think it comes down to tightening your belt and hanging on,” Crouse said. “I think there’s a lot of businesses that are just gradually getting crushed.”
It is crises such as COVID-19 that creates entrepreneurs and inspires transformation unlike what anybody could imagine, he said.
“It’s unbelievable the innovation that comes out of something like this,” Crouse said.
The Broomfield Chamber of Commerce will present its next education webinar, “Preparing Your Finances for Uncertain Time,” from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 10. To register, visit broomfieldchamber.com.