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Restaurants survive in time of coronavirus

Before the coronavirus changed everything, Solomon’s Porch was a crowded gathering place in Wilmore filled with students and townspeople who come for coffee and sandwiches but also for social connection.

These days, though, the tables are empty, and instead of conversation and laughter, the loudest sound is the espresso machine.

Still, there were quite a few people coming and going during the noon hour last Saturday.

Erin Gibson, who owns and manages the restaurant with her husband, Tim, said business hasn’t been that bad since dining in was banned by order of the governor in mid-March.

Carryout, curbside service and delivery are still allowed, and that’s “working fine,” Gibson said.

The coffee shop and deli mostly does carryout and curbside, and does a few deliveries to large groups with enough notice.

They’ve had to change the way they do things, such as allowing credit card payment by phone or having one of the two people in the kitchen answer the phone while she runs an order outside to someone in their car.

“I’d rather be open, honestly, and make the adjustments, than shut down completely,” she said.

Gibson said some of her employees are working fewer hours, but she hasn’t had to lay anyone off and hopes to avoid that.

During the first couple of weeks after the governor issued his order March 16, the Porch’s revenue was down by about half, but it’s gradually gone up as people “get more comfortable with their rhythm,” she said.

“The nice thing is the customers have been incredible,” she said. “People have been super generous with their tips,” and that has helped offset some of the loss of hours.

“I think we’re going to be OK,” Gibson said.

Infectious disease experts say the risk of getting the coronavirus from food preparation is less than that of coming in contact with someone at the grocery store because the virus is spread by respiratory droplets entering another person’s respiratory system through the nose, eyes or mouth, not from entering the digestive tract, where acids can kill the virus.

“Really, there doesn’t have to be any contact,” Gibson said. “It’s a few extra steps, but it’s really not that inconvenient.”

At Nicholasville Cafe in the heart of downtown, owners Gerald and Gertie Deeken are the only ones preparing and serving the food, as they’ve done for 25 years.

“It’s a strange time,” Gerald Deeken said. “We’re sill just carrying on,” serving the same menu for the same price as they were before the virus outbreak.

“Our customer base is pretty loyal. It helps. But it’s not like it was,” he said.

He figured the restaurant has lost about a third to half of its business.

He said the restaurant had been closed for a month because his wife was ill, and had reopened.

“We were coming back to full force when this happened,” he said.

At the Brannon Crossing outdoor mall near the county line, Gumbo Ya Ya, a Cajun and Creole restaurant that also has a location in Lexington, is also still serving customers, but fewer than before.

“Doing only carryout hasn’t hurt us too badly,” store manager Greg Todd said. “The way our system works, it kind of lends itself to that.”

The kitchen staff cooks the food, such as red beans and rice or chicken étouffée, in large quantities and serves it in styrofoam boxes along with wrapped eating utensils and disposable cups, so no one except employees touches anything.

“Normally, on a Saturday, it wouldn’t be jam-packed, but there would be a lot more traffic,” Todd said.

It was around 2 p.m., and there were a few customers who came and went.

“I can’t say that it hasn’t had an effect,” but it could be worse.

Like Solomon’s Porch and Nicholasville Cafe, Gumbo Ya Ya has loyal customers who understand and want to help, and that makes a difference, Todd said.

“They make a point of saying, ‘We’re trying to support you all.’ That’s been amazing,” he said.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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