Rebuilding America: Our series dives into our community's efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
NEWTON — As the governor of Kansas was making the difficult decision to close down the state to slow the spread of COVID-19, the food service industry was among the industries put on their heels.
In Newton, while some were able to continue in business while focusing on their drive-thru customer base, not all food establishments were able to do so.
The Breadbasket on N. Main Street was one of those.
"We just reopened this week and have had to revamp some of our menu items and hours until we get a better feel for what customers are wanting right now," said owner Chad Lehman. "With a reduced seating capacity, we hope many customers will choose to do carryout if we are at capacity."
Gurty’s Burgers & Shakes and Norm’s Coffee Bar didn’t shut down at all.
"We were already set up with curbside pickup and already had an online app for receiving orders, plus we have always taken call-ins," said Gurty’s owner Murray Anderson.
When in-house dining resumed, Anderson said, the restaurant spaced all its tables 6 feet apart and has many tables it is no longer using.
"We also installed plexiglass sneeze guards at the register, began using disposable menus, and have removed all consumable items while handing out disposable condiments, straws and napkins," he said. "People have really liked Gurty’s to-go, and a lot of our business is online and call-in carryout orders."
Tami Lakey, spokesperson for Norm’s Coffee Bar, said that establishment implemented guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state of Kansas and Harvey County and never totally closed.
"Our dining room was completely closed for five weeks, we always offered takeout and car-side service, though the car-side service stopped as our downtown neighbors began to open because we share a parking lot with many of them," Lakey said.
The dining room at Norm’s reopened May 4.
"We maintain a healthy, safe and sanitary space, though customers will notice an increase in sanitizing of high-touch surfaces, social distancing prompts, available hand sanitizer, masks on our employees and tables/chairs that are distanced appropriately," Lakey said.
Lehman, of the Breadbasket, recognizes many people continue to worry about going out right now.
"Therefore we are offering ‘heat-and-eat’ meals in which they can take their order home and eat it at the customer’s convenience," he said. "Once things open up more, we hope customers will come back and enjoy our delicious soups, pie and other items that we are known for."
Lakey noted the challenges of making a profit in the current climate.
"Restaurants are modeled to make profit when the dining rooms are at a certain capacity and the requirement to cut our capacity to less than half of our model is a challenge — as it is for every restaurant," she said. "We are utilizing all disposable serving/tableware, which is less ‘cozy’ than we are used to in our coffee bar."
Just because people can begin to be out and about doesn’t mean they will choose to or feel safe doing so, Lakey said.
"Somehow, we need to find a way to grow back towards profitability while respecting our customer needs and feelings," she said. "The guiding factor is to stay open and to move towards a new normal as we continue through the reopening phases.
"We desire to provide a ’third place’ for our community, where coffee, community and connection are always present. The community and connection part of that mission were certainly a challenge during the five weeks that our dining room was closed. However, we still found lots of opportunities to provide that while we were serving our customers. It is amazing what a two-minute conversation can do to connect people during such a disconnected time. It has been our privilege to adapt our mission during COVID-19."