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Mile High Morning: Taste of the Broncos shines a light on local restaurants looking to bounce back after COVID-19


The Lead

When COVID-19 regulations led to the closing of businesses across Colorado, local restaurants and small businesses were some of the hardest hit. On Monday, Taste of the Broncos aimed to give those local restaurants a platform to showcase their food to Broncos fans and foodies with an outdoor tailgate-style tasting at Empower Field at Mile High.

The annual Taste of the Broncos presented by King Soopers, now in its seventh year, brings together local chefs, caterers and restaurants for a gourmet tailgate, where guests can sample food from more than 20 different local restaurant concepts with all proceeds benefiting the Food Bank of the Rockies and Denver Broncos Charities. Since its inception in 2015, the event has raised more than $315,000 for Food Bank of the Rockies and brought new business to more than 100 local restaurants and vendors across Denver.

This year, the event had an added benefit for participating restaurants: helping to highlight and bring new business to these establishments as the owners and employees look to bounce back from closures and COVID-19 precautions that have restricted or prevented indoor dining over the last year. For many of these family-owned businesses, bringing customers back to their restaurants is crucial for their success.

"We always focus on bringing new restaurants into the fold," Broncos Executive Director of Community Development Allie Engelken said.

But this year, following the impacts of COVID-19 on the community, the event had "an increased focus on diversity in not only food offerings but also owners and chefs," according to Engelken.

Lodene Turner, the owner and baker of Sweet Sweetz, a minority-women-owned, family-operated bakery, was a first-time participant in Taste of the Broncos this year.

"We only opened eight months before the pandemic," Turner said.

But their sweet treats and family-focused atmosphere have helped keep their doors open over the last year, despite restaurant closures across Denver.

"To be open for two years here in our community through all of this, it's amazing," Turner's daughter and Sweet Sweetz baker Erin Davis said.

While Turner and her two daughters, who both work at the bakery with her, certainly lost business during COVID-19, they also lost much of their ability to work in their community — a focus of their business model.

When asked if she was hoping to gain new customers from the Taste of the Broncos event, Turner said "absolutely," but added that her primary motivation for participating was to be a part of a community event.

Sweet Sweetz aims to "support the local community by providing a positive gathering space for youth and families," according to their website.

"We try to be very active in the community," Turner said. "[Before COVID-19] we had family nights, board games, live music [at Sweet Sweetz]."

Though they hope to bring those activities back soon, Turner and her daughters haven't been able to just yet.

"Hopefully by next summer," Davis said.

But the women of Sweet Sweetz still find ways to involve themselves in the community whenever possible, from working with Food Bank of the Rockies to donating ice cream and baked goods to local schools.

Sweet Sweetz's signature dish for Taste of the Broncos was a homemade peach cobbler, a popular item on their menu — which features everything from pies to ice cream to cupcakes — and the perfect representation of their home-cooked, family-focused atmosphere.

This year's Taste of the Broncos featured nine first-time participants, including minority- and women-owned businesses, vegetarian and vegan restaurants and sustainability-focused chefs and restaurant concepts.

"The Denver Broncos have an amazing platform," Engleken said, "and if we can help bring new business to local restaurants and raise funds for charity with this event, we will work hard to achieve that goal."

Aiming to bring together Broncos fans, football and good food at Empower Field at Mile High, Taste of the Broncos hopes to have a special impact on the Denver community this year, highlighting the incredible small and family-owned restaurants around the city.

Click here to see the full list of the restaurants that participated in the event.

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