5 Star program boosts businesses that shine | Business News

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Adam’s Mountain Café will be allowed to increase the number of diners it serves under 5 Star certification.

Farley McDonough is proud that her restaurant, Adam’s Mountain Café in Manitou Springs, was among the first businesses to get certified under El Paso County’s new 5 Star program.

Adam’s received its certificate Feb. 8 and now is allowed to operate at capacity limits one level higher on the state’s COVID-19 dial framework.

With El Paso County at the Yellow level on the dial, Adam’s currently can serve 50 people, or 50 percent of its occupancy capacity of 100 diners. 

When she is able to fully implement the program, McDonough will be able to serve an additional 25 people — and she believes that the certification will cushion her business somewhat if the county slips down to Orange again.

McDonough said she had already implemented most of the procedures that are required for a restaurant to be certified and was able to meet the additional standards the program mandates. 

Other businesses aren’t so sure the program will benefit them enough to make it worth their while.

“Oskar Blues is all for anything that’s going to allow us to open up to better serve our community, keep our employees staffed, and bring in some more hours and more revenue,” General Manager Liz Borris said. “And to do that safely, I think the 5 Star certification program is great for the community.”

But Borris said the restaurant is “in the beginning stages” of examining the requirements and application process to determine whether the program is a good fit.


The 5 Star program was developed by the state and is implemented and overseen on the county level by an administrative committee. 

The program is voluntary and covers ventures including general businesses, gyms and fitness clubs, restaurants, breweries, bars, personal services and indoor events. Counties or municipalities in Blue, Yellow and Orange levels that want to participate must form an administrative group and apply for inclusion in the program. Counties in level Red must meet additional criteria, and counties in level Purple are not eligible.

County administrators have to submit weekly updates to the state and must conduct effective compliance and enforcement. For example, if a business is found to be noncompliant and receives a warning but noncompliance continues, the administrative committee must revoke its certification.

El Paso County’s entry into the program was accomplished after months of work by a consortium of individuals and organizations across the county, Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC President and CEO Dirk Draper said at a Feb. 3 press conference announcing the opening of the program.

The county spearheaded the program and did “the heavy lifting of setting up the program and submitting the application for our region to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment,” Draper said. Partners included Colorado Springs, Calhan, Fountain, Green Mountain Falls, Manitou Springs, Monument, Palmer Lake and Ramah.

The county’s application was approved Feb. 1, at a time when the county was deemed to be in the Orange dial category. 

“We’ve recently achieved notable progress in our COVID-19 metrics as defined by the state,” El Paso County Public Health Director Susan Wheelan said at the Feb. 3 press conference. “We are grateful for everyone who has stepped up during these difficult times. That combined efforts has allowed our county to be able to apply the 5 Star program.”

On Feb. 6, the state launched a new dial framework, and El Paso County moved to the Yellow level. Businesses that are certified now can operate under the guidelines of level Blue, the second-least restrictive level on the dial.

“It’s a big day for a lot of restaurants in El Paso County,” said Greg Howard, President of the Pikes Peak chapter of the Colorado Restaurant Association. “We’re looking forward to it as a restaurant community, to move forward and to be able to open up our businesses to more guests, and also to be able to bring more staff back so we can get people back working.”


The state’s 5 Star program mandates that certified businesses comply with a long list of mitigation strategies and prove that they have gone beyond what is already required by public health orders by passing an on-site inspection.

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Restaurants, breweries and bars are among the businesses that can apply for the 5 Star program, along with gyms and personal services. 

Throughout the pandemic, the department of public health and environment has issued numerous guidances spelling out what businesses should do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Mask wearing, 6-foot distancing and sanitation and cleaning of high-touch surfaces are basic. Other actions such as daily employee symptom and exposure checks that were recommended in previous guidances are required for certified businesses.

The state provides extensive guidelines and resources to businesses on how to meet the required provisions. A seven-page guidance, for example, explains best practices on ventilation and HVAC systems.

To be certified, businesses must have quality ventilation deemed sufficient by the inspector. Among the characteristics that pass muster are HVAC systems equipped with the highest-rated filter available for the system, operated at the highest optimized settings for the space and serviced at least twice a year by an HVAC technician. 

Special provisions are outlined for various types of businesses. For example, in addition to the basic measures, restaurants must:

•seat parties 6 feet apart in levels Green through Orange;

•perform daily employee symptom and exposure checks;

•screen for symptoms and record customer names and contact information to support tracing;

•take reservations, or document how parties will be kept 6 feet apart and not congregate while waiting, and keep a log of which table a customer occupied;

•file a written implementation and compliance plan with the county administrative committee;

•have a business-specific plan for outbreak detection, reporting and response;

•improve ventilation by upgrading HVAC, using HEPA filters or opening windows and/or doors during business hours;

•promote an exposure notification app to employees and customers;

•publicly display instructions for customers to lodge complaints;

•take extra effort to create special hours or accommodations for at-risk populations; and

•have no prior citations of noncompliance with public health orders.

El Paso County hired SAFEbuilt, a community development services company based in Centennial, to conduct inspections and issue certifications, Draper said. SAFEbuilt, which also is working with other counties in the Denver metro area, was selected in a competitive process.


McDonough said she’s been notified that she will be able to implement higher guest levels by the end of this month.

Although El Paso is in level Yellow, businesses won’t be able to operate in level Blue until 70 percent of 70-year-olds in the county receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

For now, that means McDonough can’t add seating at Adam’s Mountain Café. 

“Even though I can’t technically do the increase right now, the upside to the 5 Star program currently is that I think it gives a lot of people peace of mind that we’re doing the right things,” she said. “It makes people that are more hesitant or concerned to go out and dine feel more comfortable knowing that we’ve been certified by the county.”


And if there is another COVID-19 spike and the county drops back to a lower level, “we would still be able to operate at one level above,” McDonough said. “So it’s giving me more flexibility moving forward to keep the restaurant sustainable.”

McDonough said she has heard concerns from other restaurant owners about compliance with the program’s requirements.

While several have mentioned HVAC issues, “I do know a couple of restaurants that were just super excited like me to get it done,” she said.

McDonough thinks some restaurants dislike having to take guests’ names and contact information at the door.

“We’ve been doing that since the very beginning, and some people get seriously upset about that,” she said. “But we decided that that was something we were going to continue to do. But if you haven’t been doing that all along, that might make you uncomfortable and make you not want to do the 5 Star because you don’t want to go there.”

Otherwise, McDonough said, she didn’t find compliance that difficult.

“I had to firm up a couple of things that I was already doing,” she said, “but basically it’s pretty much what I’ve been doing already. So if a restaurant has already been trying to do everything they can according to the state guidelines that have been on the website, then they should already be pretty close to getting there.”

Borris said the fact that Oskar Blues operates in an older building “might pose some problems for us in terms of the HVAC system.”

The restaurant is preparing to reopen its basement space, which will allow it to host 150 people under the Yellow level. 

If it were certified and permitted to operate at level Blue, the venue could serve 175 people, although table placement might limit that number, Borris said.

As of Feb. 6, Oskar Blues also could extend last call from 10 to 11 p.m., she said.

“We’re thankful for that, but I think the 5 Star might be more beneficial for some of the smaller places,” she said. “We’re just weighing out our options right now to make sure it’s the best fit for us.”

For more information about the 5 Star program, visit cscedc.com/5star.