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Recently reopened Streetcar520 utilized its downtime and PPP bailout to retool and recreate itself

Back on Track


Streetcar520 owner Ari Howard got creative during quarantine, overhauling the restaurant. - REN CREATIV
  • REN Creativ
  • Streetcar520 owner Ari Howard got creative during quarantine, overhauling the restaurant.

By now you’ve heard the hubbub about the big chain restaurants who got (then in some cases, under pressure, returned) their Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.

Locally, a number of eligible (and appropriate — ahem) restaurants and bars applied and a fortunate 15 percent statewide (according to Colorado Restaurant Association data on the first round of federal funding) were awarded various loan allotments to get staff back to work and off unemployment.

Some eateries/bars closed immediately when the on-site dining ban was enacted in mid-March, waiting to come back at strength as allowed, or once they had PPP funds in hand to make reopening financially possible. For example, Brother Luck reopened Lucky Dumpling on April 23, and Four by Brother Luck on the 24th after more than a month’s hiatus.

Many other restaurants remained open, quickly transitioning to pickup and delivery models. Streetcar520 was one of those for a while, operating up until April 5 with just owner/operator Ari Howard and front house GM Winn Kirkpatrick (in a volunteer capacity) on most days.

Howard says she had two goals: to make a month’s worth of payroll she owed staff, and to move through perishable inventory so it wouldn’t go to waste: “I had a boatload that I wanted to sell rather than throw away.”

Once she met both goals, also donating food to staff and the Marian House Soup Kitchen, she closed shop to focus on the final steps of her PPP loan, which she’d been working on at night after 14- to 16-hour shifts. She says there were 177 pages of financial documents she had to produce; having written her own business plan over the course of eight months a while back gave her some fortitude.But Howard learned something much more important during those few weeks of limited operation.

“I’ve always worked in my restaurant as an operator — I do all my own bookkeeping and work front of the house,” she says, “but I never worked back of the house. I spent three weeks working the line. I learned more about my business than I’d learned in years. I really got a hands-on, accurate picture of why my labor and food costs were so high. I knew exactly what I needed to do to fix it.”

Howard decided she’d use the down days after April 5 to retool everything. With PPP paperwork off her plate, she shifted to working with her Sysco representatives, who offer menu consulting and more to their clientele, spending hours on-site assessing everything from kitchen space to prep procedures, plus doing plate costing, “down to a pinch of salt,” she says. With that support, she overhauled 80 percent of her menu, keeping only popular items like fried chicken and grits and fries and curry  dip around.

Howard announced a reopening for May 1, and spent the remainder of April retraining staff on the new menu, “especially back of the house.” Without the PPP loan, she wouldn’t have had the funds to reposition Streecar520 for future success.

Showing no shortage of gumption, she made the best of otherwise disastrous times. And, following other eateries who’re doing their best to detach from Grubhub and other delivery entities that charge restaurants high commissions per order, Howard created her own delivery service, going through extra steps to insure some staff vehicles so they could become deliverers until on-site service returns.

As for the new menu launched May 1, Howard describes it as “transcontinental cuisine with a huge focus on shared plates and family-style.” New items include: bao buns, Korean baby back ribs, “a fun play on taquitos,” mac-and-cheese, meatballs, tenderloin kebabs and avocado hummus.

Kirkpatrick also created a new cocktail list, which includes a rotating boozie slushy that was popular during the late March limited service: a roasted pineapple chipotle Old Fashioned. (I had one ... okay, three actually ... they’re dope.)

“I previously aimed for biannual menu changes,” says Howard. “But for now I’m aiming for quality and consistency, no giant overhauls, though we’ll modify things here and there as needed.”

Sounds like a sound pandemic plan, the knowledge hard-earned, as the slow reopening of restaurants and bars that’s ahead will require continued nimbleness in an uncertain marketplace. But this Streetcar’s back on the tracks and headed in the right direction for now. 

Location Details Streetcar520
520 S. Tejon St.
Colorado Springs, CO
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, to 1 a.m.

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