By Emily Kemme
When the Greeley Epic Egg restaurants shut down in March at the pandemic’s onset, Christy and Mike Moriarty had many panicky déjà vu moments. After the 2016 rebranding of their three Egg & I stores — two in Greeley and one in Cheyenne —, they were finally breaking even. The re-brand had forced Mike Moriarty, a longtime Northern Colorado restaurateur, to take a huge financial hit.
As the Egg & I’s first franchisee in 1996, Moriarty was well-versed in the booming breakfast and lunch business. But when Florida-based First Watch purchased the Egg & I chain in 2015, he and his wife had a choice of remaining on familiar turf, or try to wing it with their own version.
The switch gave the Moriarty’s the welcome opportunity to go local, supporting Colorado suppliers like Denver’s Merfs hot sauce and Rome’s Sausage, a small batch artisan sausage maker in business since 1959. They completely reworked their menu in nine months. Going it on their own also offered an opportunity to serve Day Drinks — a line of alcoholic beverages with a brunch-y twist.
“When we closed in March 2020, business was immediately down 90 percent from the last year,” Christy Moriarty said. “Before the November 22 shutdown, we were beginning to catch up, down between 30 to 50 percent, but that doesn’t make up for six months of lost revenue. We had to take an enormous loan to stay alive, after 30 years of being in business.”
Even with a no-strings $150,000 grant to pay staff and food bills from the state of Wyoming back in May, the Cheyenne store saw revenue losses of $225,000 in 2020. The Greeley stores were down even more, Moriarty said. Weld County gave a $15,000 grant, and there is PPP money to pay back from federal funds, which they will also have to claim as income.
Because of the mandate for no inside dining beginning in late November, they made the tough decision to lay off staff and were down to a skeleton crew of two: a cook and a server, one of the managers who also hosts, answers the phone, and prepares the to-go orders.
Even with a relatively busy to-go business in many restaurant sectors, Christy Moriarty acknowledged not too many people want breakfast to-go. While some dishes are more transportable — pancakes and waffles come to mind —, sunny side up eggs and Eggs Benedict don’t fit the scenario well. Warming them up in a microwave when you get them home pretty much defeats the purpose of ordering your eggs soft poached. Breakfast is also a meal where people often conduct business. The pandemic shut those down, too.
That’s when Divine Dinnerz was born. A longtime passion, Christy loves making dinner and sitting down at the table to entertain people.
At the time of the first closure in March, the Epic Egg stores were stuck with inventory. A lot was given out to staff, but Christy took the remainder and made comfort food dinners from them. The meals are cooked weekly and distributed to the stores. At a cost ranging from $20-$30 per selection, each Divine Dinnerz feeds 4 people.
“There’s a lot of people who don’t have the luxury of going out or ordering expensive take-out. With the Dinnerz, they don’t have to tip and they can enjoy the meals in the comfort of their own homes,” she said. “A lot of people don’t have the time, the money, the know-how for cooking. And it’s about sitting down, having conversations, looking people in the eye, and not worrying whether the food is fresh.”
Customer favorites have been meat loaf, lasagne, and the chicken enchiladas. “The meat loaf isn’t the ordinary meat loaf, it’s gourmet, with two kinds of meat, an 80/20 percent and 90/10 ground beef. The loaf is baked on a rack so it doesn’t sit in its own juices,” Moriarty said. An apple cider vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar glaze with hints of cumin jazzes it up, speaking to Christy’s Filipino heritage.
Breakfast is a major restaurant industry player. A 2019 report said that 55 percent of consumers would order breakfast items more often if restaurants offered them all day. “But economically, people have lost their jobs so there’s that choice of can they afford going out for breakfast or paying the electricity bill. Breakfast is a discretionary income choice,” Moriarty said.
The times we live in aren’t of the ordinary sort. While breakfast out might be considered a luxury, a hot dinner on the table to feed your family is essential.
Check Epic Egg’s website for updated temporary Covid hours. As of January 4, both the Colorado and Wyoming restaurants are open for inside dining and take-out. Divine Dinnerz are available by online ordering or call or email any Epic Egg location. Divine Dinnerz are also available for delivery. They require heating in an oven.