Local restaurants, bars react to in-house service ban

Caleb Lowndes I CJ

Drive-thru windows like those at McDonald's, pictured here, will be one of the only ways to get your favorite restaurant's food after Gov. Andy Beshear ordered Kentucky's restaurants and bars to cease in-person service on Monday as a reaction to concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

The always-packed parking lots up and down U.S. 27 will be empty. The bright lights and buzz around downtown's brewery on the weekends, dimmed.

And a whole lot of Pulaski County citizens, business owners and servers, struggling.

The latest reaction from Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear to the COVID-19 situation has been to order the state's restaurants and bars closed to the public, effective as of Monday.

Customers can get carry-out or delivery services, as well as use a drive-thru, but in-person, sit-down service has been suspended indefinitely. The result is a severe financial strain on the businesses and servers out of work.

"It's scary as s***," said Daniel Stroud, co-owner of Jarfly Brewing Co. in Somerset. "Obviously, a lot of people's jobs and industries are impacted. The arts, industries and music venue side are all impacted. Everything Jarfly does is hit from every one of those corners. It's a scary time, but also a time to relax as a business, peer inside and see how we can recoup."

Unfortunately, March is typically an important month for Jarfly, coming out of the craft beer microbrewery's slowest time of the year. In 2018, March was a record month for the popular local watering hole. "It's kind of been our come-out-of-hibernation month," said Stroud.

That won't be the case in 2020. The business shutdown is likely to last at least several weeks, if not longer. Jarfly is considering the option of delivering crowlers, a craft beer transportation method, and Stroud also noted that people can get gift cards from Jarfly via Facebook or Instagram to help keep the business afloat, and email a "digital beer" that they can purchase at no extra cost as to what it would be in the tap room.

"We're still looking into the feasibility of doing deliveries," said Stroud. "If it's something people want, it's a great alternative to keep Jarfly going and keep patrons happy with our product."

Chris Robinson, owner of Eubank Pizza, said both branches of the restaurant will be operational, offering “curb-side service” to those who don’t want to come into the store to pick up their order.

Additionally, Robinson said that he hoped to have a limited delivery service from the south (Somerset) location ready by Friday. He said he is looking at having that delivery service available only to the elderly and those who “truly need it.”

“We were not equipped today,” he said, but is looking at how to get the infrastructure in place for that as soon as possible.

He asked that anyone who orders for delivery to call the south location and order by phone only, so that the business can get specific directions if needed.

For those who are going to pick up their orders from the restaurant, Robinson said they can order either by phone or through their online app, Slice.

Robinson said that even before the coronavirus threat, their capacity for carry-out orders was growing.

“We are ready to support the community, if the community is willing to support us,” Robinson said.

Dawn Dowden, owner of the Sock Hop Diner in Burnside, was one of those in Pulaski who quickly reached out on Facebook to get the word out about her locally-owned small business, saying that she would offer car hop services or delivery, and adding, "I refuse to let this virus get a hold of my business."

Said Dowden to the Commonwealth Journal on Monday, "I'm still kind of working out the plans. As of now, I'll have the (phone) number outside the door and posted online, and let people know they can pull up out there, I'll bring them a menu, they can order, I'll bring it to the car, or they can call ahead of time and I'll have it ready for them. I'll also do delivery within a 10-mile radius and have meeting points as well for a 10-mile radius for people outside of that."

Dowden noted that a lot of customers don't pay attention to Facebook, however, and expects to lose a lot of customers who are accustomed to coming in to a sit-down diner, as well as people who decide not to go out to eat. She noted that she wishes that if restaurants would be limited, grocery stores would be more limited too in how they could serve customers; "It's packed," she noted of the stores.

Cristy Whitaker, bar manager at Reno's Roadhouse, said that her business would be open for carry-outs Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. But while the business is still technically open, just not to inside dining, the situation has created a lot of stress for employees.

"We don't know what's going to happen — there are a lot of people who don't know what's going to happen," she said. "(Employees) are nervous. They're worried about how they're going to get groceries, or get their other bills paid." She said Reno's planned to re-open its inside dining space and bar "as soon as the plan is lifted, but who know how long that will last?"

Bill Hamilton, owner of Tap on Main Brewing and Main Street Deli, said that his tap room and brewery wouldn't be making deliveries of their product during this lean period, saying he doesn't think there's enough business in that to justify paying someone to do it.

"It's going to be bad enough that the employees working over there probably won't get paid for at least two weeks," said Hamilton. "I think two weeks (will be enough time), but we'll see. That's been the norm most places. I understand that things have got to happen. If we were a big bar serving foods, I could see it, but this is very small. Me, I think it's a little bit of overkill, but we'll live with it."

As far as Main Street Deli, much of its business is grab-and-go anyway, but there are a few seats available next to the rows of convenience store fare. "We seat under 50, we're a deli, not a restaurant, we only seat about 24 people," he said. "If it does (qualify to be closed to inside diners), we can always meet people at the door with food or whatever. They can pick it up, but just can't eat it here."

Sara Waddle oversees two local restaurants — Serendipity at the Orange Door in downtown Somerset and Serendipity at Mill Springs in Nancy. She's planning on having pick-ups and deliveries for lunch service, Monday through Friday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., at the downtown location and will eventually decide on doing the same for supper, 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., a service that will "grow as the community responds," she said. They will also determine the interest for doing the same at the Nancy location.

Already, her business has taken a hit though. And as fears about the spread of the coronavirus became more prevalent, Waddle saw in-house activity go down by "at least 10 percent a day," she said. At Friday's dinner service, the turnout was about 50 percent what it normally is.

"Half my staff are waitresses; they depend on tips," said Waddle. "That's what made me sick to my stomach, just trying to figure out how they're going to be okay. When you're responsible for 20 employees and their families, it really weighs heavily on you."

City and county businesses can call and reserve a delivery time in 15-minute increments for a $5 delivery fee. That would "just help with gas, help (the employees) go home with a little bit of cash at the end of the day."

But as a small business, it will still hurt Serendipity's bottom line nonetheless. "Even if I did 60-100 deliveries per day, it would get us by, but 60 would be minimal for what we want to do to keep my staff at a minimum of what they could afford to live on," she said.

Waddle added that she spoke with Somerset Mayor Alan Keck recently about trying to figure out what to do to help her 20 employees in a "worst-case scenario," noting, "I don't want them to go hungry."

The Commonwealth Journal on Monday made a post on Facebook asking local eateries to say if they'd be offering carry-out or curbside service. A list of the businesses to respond to the post (which can be viewed on the Commonwealth Journal Facebook page) and confirm that they'd be offering ways to buy their food without coming in to dine included the following:

Serendipity at the Orange Door; Downtown Deli; Hardee's at light no. 6; Mellow Mushroom; Firehouse Subs; Papa John's Pizza; Mr. Gatti's; Pollo Feliz; VIP's Place on Ky. 90; Los Dos Arcos; El Mezcal; Casa Grande; Old Town Grill; Dairy Queen; Taco John's; Sonic; Guthrie's Grill; Sk8ter's Paradise; Chili's' Sonny's BBQ; Long John Silver's/A&W; El Charro; Ruby Tuesday; Chick-fil-A; Frisch's; Texas Roadhouse; Yamato Steakhouse of Japan; Buffalo Wings & Rings; Over Easy Bistro; Cracker Barrel.

To help out servers who are out of a job because of his decision to ban in-person service at restaurants and bars, Beshear also on Monday waived the waiting period for unemployment benefits as well as the requirement to search for work, during the period of Kentucky's State of Emergency.

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