By Dan England
Kyle Jongerden moved to Colorado in December to help open Rove, a new restaurant in Old Town Fort Collins. It was an exciting time. He looked forward to serving unique drinks, curated American cuisine and running a nightclub up top, a perfect mix for the hip district that sees college students, young urban professionals and natives who love the outdoor lifestyle encouraged by the area.
In March, construction was 90 percent complete, and they were so, so close—until news about this strange new virus began to float around.
Almost a year later, Jongerden shudders a little, loud enough to hear it over a phone, when he thinks about what he and his staff have been through.
“We will probably have PTSD the rest of our lives,” Jongerden says. “That’s what you get for opening your doors during a pandemic.”
Still, Rove did open in late July, making the upcoming holiday season seem easy by comparison. Once COVID-19 began spreading, and businesses began closing, Jongerden and
executive chef Sean Scott would have daily conversations about the adjustments they would have to make.
“We freaked out in our little ways, and then we reinvented the wheel 7,000 times,” Jongerden says.
It seems ironic, then, that Jongerden says Rove wound up with the plans they wanted, or about as close as they possibly can be in today’s pandemic. Rove has in-person dining, and even the nightclub is running, although with some fairly strict rules.
“We didn’t have to change our concept,” he says. “We just ended up being back at square one, and we are grateful for that.”
That concept included an emphasis on atmosphere, which is why Jongerden remains so grateful that Colorado allows in-person dining.
“We wanted it to be an experience thing, too,” he says. “We wanted it to be a place where we can leave our lives for an hour or two and enjoy ourselves. Take-out or delivery would have been a completely different experience than what we envisioned.”
The nightclub doesn’t allow dancing, or mingling, and customers have to wear masks when they leave their table, but it otherwise operates like a nightclub. Jongerden says he hopes to establish VIP packages and table service, possibly with bottles of champagne and sparklers, to go along with the DJs he had already brought in on regular schedules so customers can pick their favorites.
“That part is taking off,” Jongerden says. “People can plan their weekends around it. It’s been fun to develop that culture.”
Patrons struggled at first with the regulations, and Jongerden admits he’s probably stricter than some. But he noticed some key adjustments as Halloween approached.
“The last couple of weeks guests have been really good about following the rules,” he says. “They were moving and grooving but staying right next to their table. People are figuring out how to roll during the pandemic. It’s kind of cool.”
There was even a line waiting outside the club on a recent Friday night, which Jongerden called “cute.” It was probably unthinkable that would happen back in March, when they were wondering if they would ever open. Now those days seem long gone, even when there are constant reminders it’s still around.
“I’m proud to have some semblance of what life was like before COVID-19 in our place,” Jongerden says. “That’s what we want. We want a place where you can take a break from all the insanity going on in 2020.”