LA GRANDE — Some restaurants in La Grande began shutting down Tuesday in the wake of the latest order from Gov. Kate Brown to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus. Ron Bruce, owner of Bud Jackson’s Eatery & Taps, said this is a rough situation.
“I had to lay everybody off,” he said.
Depending on the day, Bud Jackson’s had between 22 and 24 employees, Bruce said, and roughly 80% worked 40 or more hours a week.
“They want to come back,” he said.
Bruce bought the place in November 2019 and business was fine until the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We were having a pretty good deal going,” he said. “Changing the menu and making quality food and raising the quality here.”
Brown on March 16 ordered the ban on dining in. Monday she issued harsher restrictions, requiring Oregonians to stay home unless necessary.
Most restaurants that decided to remain open are doing so with limited staffs and serving takeout or drive-through orders. Depending on the restaurant, hours, the method of ordering, the exact service and method of payment may vary.
Even takeout, Bruce said, is not going well, and other La Grande restaurant owners he spoke with Tuesday said they were shutting the doors for now.
Wallowa County restaurants also are trying to continue feeding their customers.
Eva Barnes, owner of Sugar Time Bakery, Enterprise, had allowed people to come in to place their orders but now restricts that to call-in orders with curbside service. But she hasn’t lost her sense of humor in it all. Barnes’ most recent offering at the bakery is a large sugar cookie decorated with, “Stay Happy, Stay Healthy.”
She said numerous businesses, the local hospital and medical professionals are counting on her establishment for breakfast and lunch. She said they seem to appreciate her efforts.
“It’s almost like it adds a little normalcy to life, they say,” Barnes said.
She noted she’s had to lay off all but her assistant manager, but as soon as circumstances return to normal, she plans to rehire.
“As soon as I can reopen, that’ll definitely be my plan,” she said.
Cindy Ellis, owner of Heavenly’s Hamburgers, Enterprise, said she, too, has had to limit service largely to the takeout window. She hasn’t yet had to lay anyone off, but she’s “working toward that now.” She said she’s likely going to have to cut hours, though she plans to keep everyone working at least part time.
“They’re all going to get something,” she said. “The few employees I have, I need to keep them.”
But the future for the Enterprise restaurant remains in question.
“If I don’t have any customers, I don’t have any money” to pay employees, Ellis said.
Teresa Sajonia, owner of Ember’s Brewhouse in Joseph, said her establishment is maintaining normal hours while serving takeout and curbside. Customers can pay by credit or debit card.
“We’re trying to keep everybody fed the best we can,” Sajonia said.
She said she’s had to lay off most of her staff — nine people — and only has two part-timers working during rush periods.
But when the crisis is declared at an end, “every one of them will be coming back,” she said.
Sajonia said she’s trying to strike a balance between continuing service and stopping the possible spread of disease.
“We want to make this as positive as possible,” she said. “We want to protect ourselves, but also keep open and serve the community the best way we know how.”
Heavenly’s Ellis has a similar philosophy.
“I act as though I have coronavirus so I don’t spread it,” she said. “I just keep my distance.”
Bruce over at Bud Jackson’s said he is sticking it out. Each day he is down at the establishment painting and cleaning, he said, and everything from door knobs to napkins is sanitized.
The place is clean and ready for business, he said, just as soon as the governor gives the green light.