Christy Wheat is worried not only about her family’s restaurants but the fate of her neighboring restaurants in downtown Decatur as customers stay home to avoid the new coronavirus.
Christy Wheat owns Simp McGhee’s on Bank Street and her husband, John Wheat, owns Josie’s on Second Avenue Northeast. Both are active in the Downtown Decatur Merchants and Business Association. She met with four fellow restaurant owners on Tuesday.
“I’m very worried for all of us, especially not knowing how long this could go,” Christy Wheat said. “It would help if we knew of a certain date, but we’ll stay open as long as we can.”
The Railyard owner Tyler Jones said business was good this past weekend and Monday was decent, but he’s expecting a dip in customer traffic.
“We’re really trying to figure out a plan today,” Jones said Tuesday.
Donnie Lane, owner of Apple Lane Farms eatery on Alabama 20 west of Interstate 65, said sales have been steady.
“All of our employees, even cashiers, are wearing gloves to minimize contact. We’ve been wiping disinfectant throughout the restaurant every two hours,” Lane said.
State Health Officer Scott Harris on Tuesday announced a one-week prohibition on restaurants, bars or breweries serving food or drinks on the premises for Jefferson, Blount, St. Clair, Shelby, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties. He said the order could be implemented statewide, and he encouraged all counties to abide by it.
Courtney Perrin, owner of b.b. Perrin’s Sports Grille, said business is less than normal and she fears it will get worse, “especially if they force us to close down.” She’s trying curbside delivery.
Also a nurse anesthetist at Huntsville Hospital, Perrin said she believes the government should leave the restaurants alone, but she realizes they’re trying to limit the impact of the virus and not overwhelm the hospitals.
“People should be able to come out and eat,” Perrin said.
Tuesday was St. Patrick’s Day, and that’s usually a big financial day for the restaurants and bars.
Ryan Helsley, owner of Mellow Mushroom and Moe’s Barbeque on Second Avenue Northeast, said he didn’t hold the “big party” that he would usually hold on a St. Patrick’s Day.
However, Christy Wheat said she was hopeful that some people would still come out and celebrate.
“It’s such a nice day,” Wheat said Tuesday. “It will hurt to lose some of that business.”
Perrin said her restaurant’s business will be hurt more by the loss of the NCAA’s Division I Basketball Tournament.
“March is usually one of our best months of the year, even better than football, because of March Madness,” Perrin said.
Wheat said her restaurant is already seeing fewer business travelers, which makes up a lot of her weekday business. They’re separating customers as much as possible, and her employees are disinfecting each table after a customer leaves “down to the salt and pepper shakers.”
Several restaurants are starting curbside pickup. The owners are rearranging their restaurants to increase the distance between tables. Wheat said she is considering offering prepared food like casseroles that can be picked up at the curb and served at home.
Helsley said he’s limiting Mellow Mushroom on Second Avenue to half of its capacity “and moving some of the bar stools and tables so they’re not as close together.”
The restaurant owners are trying to juggle revenues versus expenses as they figure out alternative hours and employee work time.
“At some point, I’ll have to make a decision on how much loss of overhead I can handle and when I have to send everyone home,” Wheat said.
All are worried about their employees.
Wheat said she plans to lay off her employees when that closure time comes “so they can put in for unemployment.”
Perrin said unemployment is fine but her waitresses would be paid at minimum wage and they would miss out on their desperately needed tips.