“People who have never been unemployed in their lives are reaching out for help in ways they never have before,” said Stephanie Bonin. Bonin owns Duo restaurant at 32nd and Zuni along with her husband Keith Arnold and other partners. For the past few weeks, however, she’s been better known as the woman who started an online petition that’s garnered more than 1.2 million signatures. Bonin closed her restaurant the night before Governor Polis ordered businesses across the state to shutter. “There was no easy decision,” said Bonin. “There was an obvious decision for public health.”
Once they closed, she began to think through finances for her family and her staff, all of whom were suddenly unemployed. “We weren’t eligible for unemployment,” Bonin said of her and her husband. After talking with an economics friend, she decided to start a petition on the website Change.org to create a $2,000 monthly payment to everyone in the country for the duration of the coronavirus crisis. Bonin calls the idea an “economic stabilizer.” The idea of stimulus payments isn’t new of course; Congress passed a bill to give individuals $1,200 stimulus payments earlier this year. What’s new is the attention the idea is getting from people who never considered sustained payments before, even only a few months ago when (then) presidential candidate Andrew Yang campaigned on the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI).
Bonin said her own views on the issue have evolved as well. “At the beginning it felt like a band-aid,” said Bonin, who came to see the idea not just as needed to replace income lost in the pandemic, but to create a baseline safety net for Americans before and after crises as well.
Her activism also landed her a spot on the online news program The Appeal, where she was part of a virtual town hall alongside Sen. Kamala Harris and Andrew Yang.
Back in North Denver, Bonin’s restaurant reopened at the start of June. She joked the 15 year old restaurant makes them “grandparents of the Denver dining scene” and she wants customers to know it’s the same broad array of menu options they know with some changes to how they work, including online ordering — something they never found necessary prior to the shutdown. Small changes, like online ordering, are part of a broader conversation including changes like increased social safety nets. “Some of those smart things we’re thinking of right now are a better way of doing things,” said Bonin, noting that the pandemic forced business leaders and government officials to be more innovative.
Duo restaurant is currently open Wednesday through Saturday nights and Saturday and Sunday for brunch.
Bonin’s advice on helping the local economy recover? “Go to every local store you can. The difference of two more people walking in the door can’t be underestimated.”