Rebuilding America: Local restaurants adapt during pandemic

Vicky O. Misa

Due to the threat of the spread of COVID-19 and the guidelines and precautionary measures taken over the past two and a half months, local restaurants — though essential — have been hit with multiple challenges as their customer bases all but disappeared completely. Whether securing supplies and edibles or making payroll, area eateries pulled out all the stops to keep moving forward.

When the city first shut down, eating out at a sit-down restaurant was no longer an option; for many fast-food places that serve customers via drive-thru windows, that adjustment wasn't a large leap from their norm.

But some restaurants either did not have a drive-thru window or were not established on the radar when residents considered curbside service. As a result, businesses had to adapt quickly or close down.

Longtime local diner Hamburger King, 322 E. Main, has been closed for the past two months.

“Our last day was March 25,” Partner Cindy Macsas Hardin said. “We plan to reopen on July 30.”

During the shutdown, Tapatio Mexican Restaurant, at 3100 N. Harrison, went to great lengths to create drive-thru service. The restaurant literally boarded up its front door and fashioned a pickup window in it for customers.

Paul's Place, a local steakhouse at 120 W. MacArthur, has been fortunate enough to be able to keep its doors open throughout the shelter-at-home phase, thanks to support from area residents, managing partner Neil Lindenbaum said.

“When the shutdown happened, we weren't really known for takeout,” he said.

The well-established sit-down restaurant had to change gears — suddenly relying on pickup service for all its business.

“It was interesting,” Lindenbaum said. “I'm thankful for all the support we received from the public.”

Out of the restaurant's 15 to 20 employees, about half of the staff did get sent home during the shutdown, but over the past couple weeks Lindenbaum has been able to bring them back into the work flow.

Things didn't change much for the steakhouse on the cleaning-and-symptom side of COVID-19 precautions; it was business as usual.

“We always wash our hands, and we monitor our staff health-wise; they have to stay home if they are sick,” he said. “We don't take any chances with that in the restaurant business.”

Lindenbaum did say the business has encountered some difficulty getting some meat items.

“We haven't run out of anything we need,” he said. “We are still serving everything on our menu.”

But, he said his purveyor couldn't get some things and prices have gone up, as well.

“I'm not saying there is a meat shortage; it's out there — it's a matter of getting ahold of it,” he explained.

Lindenbaum said he will be glad when the pandemic threat is over, when things can get back to normal.

“I want people to feel comfortable enough to come out and eat again,” he said.

Watch for more articles about how other locals have been coping with the challenges of running a business during a national shutdown.