Restaurants change their plans due to coronavirus

The orange “OPEN” sign was glowing late Monday afternoon at 523 Tap & Grill on South Main Street in Elkhart. Restaurants everywhere were trying to adjust to new restrictions in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

ELKHART — Small diners and large restaurants alike were trying to adjust after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb on Monday ordered an end all sit-down service in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The governor called for all bars, nightclubs and restaurants in Indiana to close to in-person patrons through the end of March. The order said businesses may provide take-out and delivery services.

Michigan declared a similar order just hours earlier.

“My biggest concern is I’ve got people who work for me who are relying on (the money) and they’re basically out of a job,” said Bret McClaine, owner of Trevi’s Italian Restaurant in Osceola. “My plan right now is to keep somebody there to answer the phone and take orders and just one cook to do the orders.”

Crystal Sheldon, manager of Evan’s Sidewalk Cafe in Bristol, said she felt conflicted with her duty to her employees and her duty to protect her customers and the community in general.

“I understand the significance of this,” she said. “It makes sense, but it’s going to be hard for everybody.”

She added that as more and more companies close their doors, or factories shut down, the majority of their customer base won’t be coming in even to pick up take out.

“I personally have kids and I have a babysitter to pay when I work,” she said. “I can’t afford to not work, and if there’s not as much business, it’s harder to afford the sitter.”

Evan’s will be limited to one waitress answering phones and one or two cooks, Sheldon said, with a limit of four people on site due to the expected slowdown.

“We’re trying to keep as many people working as we can,” she said.

The situation varies depending on the restaurant. Already accustomed to delivery and quick pickups, it’s business almost-as-usual at the Jimmy John’s in Dunlap.

“For the most part we’re handling it the best we can,” said general manager Samuel Stevens. “We’re going to see what we can do to promote the app and online delivery and everything. We’ll have (food) ready for (customers) at the door. I’m going to try my best to get everyone the hours I still can. I have a couple (employees) that are out of town so it’s weird but it’s the perfect time for this for us.”

At Angel’s House of Pancakes in Goshen, owner Jesus Puga made the decision to close down his operation entirely.

“When I heard the news, (I decided) it’s really just safer for everybody this way,” he said.

For wait staff, though, the decisions are just beginning. Texas Roadhouse server Maddie Stewart said her employer already has people designated to handle takeout orders so there’s no need for her or other waitstaff to remain on site.

“My bills are on my mind,” she said. “Serving is my only source of income.”

She considered taking on a few children to babysit until her restaurant opens up again, and she’s considering other avenues of supplementing her income as well.

“There are honestly people who will have it worse than me so I’m trying to just stay calm.”

McClane, the owner of Trevi’s Italian, knows some of his employees will be struggling, so he plans to create additional opportunities at the restaurant for them to earn money outside of their normal positions.

“I’m going to try to rotate (my employees’ schedules) and try to offer them to do some cleaning or stuff that needs done to give them some kind of hours,” he said. “There’s not much we can do about this; it’s going to be tough for everybody in this business.”

The Elkhart County Convention & Visitors Bureau sent out a news release Monday saying it respects and supports the state mandate, and urging customers and employees alike to remember they share a common goal – to prevent widespread illness and worse damage.

“The closing of restaurants, bars and nightclubs to dine-in service is the right move,” aid Diana Lawson, CEO of the Elkhart County Convention & Visitor Bureau. “While this period of time is difficult for many of us, public health and slowing the spread of this virus must be the top priority.”

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