City Launches "Denver Back to Work" Program

Published on September 28, 2021

DENVER — Denver Economic Development & Opportunity (DEDO) received approval from Denver City Council last night to roll out its “Denver Back to Work” relief grant program, helping local employers in the city’s restaurant and hospitality industries attract, hire, retain, and incent critically needed workers. The city is contracting with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation (CRF) for $1M and the CO Event Alliance for $500,000 to administer cash grants of up to $10,000 each to employers located in Denver.

Local employers applying for the grant program must submit with a bonus plan to the granting association--the CRF for restaurants and hotels, and the CO Event Alliance for caterers and event companies. With grants estimated to be $1,500 per worker, the “Denver Back to Work” program is expected to impact nearly 950 workers this fall through the participation of 140 local employers.

“We are anxious to provide relief to local workers in industries strongly affected by the ongoing pandemic, and this program reflects the data that lower-wage workers have been disproportionately affected by reduced hours, job losses, and ongoing job insecurity as well as greater health risks due to significantly fewer options for virtual work,” said Eric Hiraga, DEDO Executive Director. “Grants for employers to pass directly to their workers is the best short-term solution we know for immediately improving the climate for recovery and growth.” 

The Colorado Restaurant Association reports from its July/August 2021 survey of industry employers that labor costs relating to the ongoing worker shortage are a leading contributor to increased overhead during the pandemic, a persistent struggle that has led to 25% of restaurants considering permanent closure. Employers across the state are changing business practices, expanding benefits packages, and increasing wages to boost hiring and retention.

"We know that these grants will go a long way toward helping restaurants bring on more staff at this crucial time,” said Laura Shunk, CRF President. “It’s also important to note that these grants can be used for more than just hiring and retention. If workers need help paying for childcare or housing, both underlying systemic issues that are affecting the labor shortage, the grants can be used toward those costs."

Employers applying for a “Denver Back to Work” grant must be located in Denver, but do not need to be a member of one of the two program contractors to participate. Employers retain no portion of the grants, with 100% going directly to workers.

Workers do not need to reside in the City & County of Denver, and the program does not consider the immigration or naturalization status of the worker. 

Both the CRF and CO Event Alliance worked with Denver in the successful delivery of the Angel Relief Fund in mid-2020, which was similar in purpose and benefited workers directly. 

Employers are encouraged to reach out to the Colorado Restaurant Foundation at or CO Event Alliance at for more information. 

About Denver Economic Development & Opportunity 
Denver Economic Development & Opportunity is leading an inclusive and innovative economy for all Denver residents, businesses, and neighborhoods by supporting local and global business development, workforce development programs, and stabilization efforts in Denver’s diverse neighborhoods. Learn more at

About the Colorado Restaurant Association 
Established in 1987, the Colorado Restaurant Foundation (CRF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and the philanthropic foundation of the Colorado Restaurant Association. The CRF’s mission is to train all individuals in the food service industry and those individuals entering the industry, and provide health and wellness resources -- including financial support -- to industry employees. Learn more at