It has been more than three months since the shut down of restaurants, and we are still in limbo. The coronavirus remains with us, and in fact reared its ugly head locally with big numbers recently, creating a lot of fear within restaurant businesses and the public in general.
Although Mamacita’s International Grill, La Grande, opened again with outdoor and distance seating, they went back to just doing takeout, Tuesday through Saturday evenings. People came initially for dine-in, but then stopped. Joe & Sugars Cafe, La Grande, was closed last week after opening again on June 10. They are evaluating weekly whether or not to open. The same with La Grande’s Side A Brewing, which also is back to just takeout. They are now also doing delivery. Online ordering has helped their business a lot.
Full-service restaurants are managing to survive with fewer staff and limited hours. Locally, none have closed that I know of, but many restaurants where the rent is high, like in Portland, have closed their doors permanently. Rent is a big problem when there is not enough revenue to cover it. It remains to be seen what will happen locally.
This is a difficult time and we all wish we could return to our lives before COVID-19, but our combined investment in the health of our community could disappear if we don’t continue good practices.
In downtown Boise, where they opened the bars on June 5 and lots of people went out, there are high numbers of positive cases. They have now closed the bars again due to huge increases in the number of cases in the under 30 crowd. Last week, all bars were closed in Florida, Texas, and Los Angeles.
The eating establishments that are doing well in La Grande are those that specialized in takeout before the pandemic. I always see a line up of cars at Nell’s-n-Out, one of our oldest, locally established independent businesses.There are big lines in the drive-thru at McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Dairy Queen and Starbucks.
At our restaurant, we are continuing to work on projects that we have had on hold for a while, such as painting the kitchen, cleaning out freezers, refurbishing equipment, getting rid of ancient records. Most of our laid off staff is on unemployment and are making, with the federal bonus, more than when they were working, so we don’t worry about them right now. But who knows about the future. There will be fewer jobs in the restaurant industry as the cost of doing business will increase and many customers will have less money to spend.
At Ten Depot Street we continue perfecting our takeout, which can be done with a minimum of employees and with a minimum amount of public contact. We do, however, enjoy having conversations with our customers through the drive-thru window where the outdoor air flows freely. Our menu is small to avoid waste but changes regularly. Some items work better than others. We also are selling our sauces and dressings by the pint or quart, as well as soups. And have instituted a Sunday takeout family meal, which serves four. We are constantly learning.
And we are giving our bakery building, behind Ten Depot, which we are using for takeout, a face-lift with a fun and fanciful mural, a project I have wanted to do for a long time.
Since concentrating on takeout, we are finding new ways to make it better. One of the problems with takeout is how much waste is generated with packaging. After much research, we found returnable, reusable takeout containers. They can be microwaved or put in the freezer, and when returned we run them through our dishwasher and sterilized for reuse. It just saves so much from going into the landfill. Our customers are happy and we are happy.
But not everybody is happy. We had a gentleman call a few days ago wondering if he needed reservations. We explained that we were just doing takeout out of caution for both our employees and our customers. He ended the call by angrily blaming the governor and telling us he would take his business elsewhere.
About the Author
Sandra Sorrels is the owner of Ten Depot Street Restaurant, La Grande.