CHEYENNE – Wyomingites, like the rest of Americans, started eating out less when COVID-19 forced most businesses to shut their doors this spring. But Visit Cheyenne and Cheyenne Restaurant Week are determined to help local eateries bounce back.

Because the annual Restaurant Week couldn’t go on as planned in April, organizers moved it to Oct. 11-17 and dubbed it OctoberFeast for a new fall spin. A group of 24 watering holes, bakeries, coffee shops and restaurants signed on, and all of them will offer special deals or prix fixe meal options throughout the seven-day event.

Visit Cheyenne President and CEO Domenic Bravo said the process was headed by coordinator Laura Levi, who sent out a survey to various restaurants around the area, asking if they’d be willing to offer a certain menu item at a discount, and, in return, Visit Cheyenne would promote it.

“Our unique restaurants make us a destination, so without them being vibrant and successful, we can’t support that visitor economy,” Bravo said. “It’s a great way to support and highlight our amazing restaurants and provide a unique opportunity to travelers and local citizens to enjoy some pretty cool places.”

He added that this year’s event also includes a partnership with first lady Jennie Gordon’s Wyoming Hunger Initiative, and Gordon herself will help serve a couple days throughout the week. Several restaurants will also have a place for customers to donate to the initiative.

Visit Cheyenne Vice President and Director of Sales and Marketing Jim Walter said this event is critically important seven months into the pandemic.

“Our restaurants are struggling with reduced capacity, lower economic activity and trying to find new ways to operate safely,” Walter said in a release. “We are so proud of the way Cheyenne supported them when takeout was the only option, (and) now we need to continue to support them through dine-in or takeout to ensure they can keep their doors open and staffs employed this winter.”

Stoney Vance is the chef, pitmaster and owner of Pine Bluffs-based 307Q food truck, and when the city of Cheyenne approached him about participating in OctoberFeast, he was immediately onboard.

“So far, Cheyenne has been really, really open with allowing food trucks, while some communities are apprehensive,” he said of why he was thankful, but not surprised 307Q was approached. “Restaurant Week gives us an opportunity to really get our name out there ... they’re going to come out hungry.”

The 307Q truck will be parked outside Black Tooth Brewing Co. from 11 a.m.-close Oct. 15 and then outside Pine Bluffs Distilling during the same time frame Oct. 17. Customers on those two days of OctoberFeast can enjoy their choice of a BBQ brisket, pulled pork, turkey or sausage sandwich for $10.

Although the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department never specifically required food trucks to close in the early months of the pandemic, Vance said events he might normally provide food for were canceled, and most of the businesses the 307Q truck would park outside were closed.

But he considers himself lucky. The spring is already a slow period for food trucks in Wyoming because of the lingering cold, Vance said, and he was able to use that downtime to buy a new food truck with brand-new smokers and work on the infrastructure of his business. Many of his BBQ restaurant owner friends around the country, on the other hand, were forced to close their brick-and-mortar businesses – some of which had been in the same family for three or four generations.

That was heartbreaking to watch, Vance said, which is why he is grateful to live here.

“We’re very blessed to be in Wyoming, where generally people don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” he said. “Having a Restaurant Week really solidifies that American way of life, that American spirit-type deal where people should be able to go out and have that kind of fellowship and freedom … the fact that we’re able to have a Restaurant Week and have support of our leaders in the community is a true testament to the fact that we’re ready to get back to normal.”

Niki Kottmann is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s features editor. She can be reached at nkottmann@wyoming or 307-633-3135. Follow her on Twitter at @niki_mariee.

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