ROANOKE, Va. – In southwest Virginia’s new coronavirus world, it’s the tale of two stories for many local restaurants trying to figure it out. You may have noticed some of your favorite places have decided to shut down in the last few days after initially staying open. Many owners are reaching a point where they have to make a decision because the numbers are now very clear.
In just a matter of hours, they were forced to make a big change, practically reinventing themselves to stay in business. Despite many owners trying their best and getting back to basics with marketing and specials, most are barely staying afloat and as more days pass, others are sinking underwater.
Some kitchens are still cooking amid the shutdown, but the changes are coming at them faster than orders on a Friday night. Jerry Smith is the General Manager of Roanoke Regional Restaurant Group, the owner of Food Fanatics Kitchen.
The take out only model is catching on with its customers, but it’s still barely keeping them alive. They’ve found success in things like hand-drawn signs, flyers and email blasts.
“In the restaurant world it’s kind of like the wild, wild west, every day we have to be innovative,” Smith said. “(But we’re) barely in the black, we’re right on that fence so that’s the reason we’re being very aggressive with the type of old school marketing we’re doing."
Just a few blocks down the street at the Salad Factory, Michelle Barlow and her husband were forced to close the doors. Their business relies heavily on walk-ins and is situated right next to the AEP office building. Sales are down 90% and it’s no longer a smart business move.
“Once the dining room closed, it was pretty much a done deal,” Barlow said. “We noticed a drop in sales starting March 11, AEP starting laying people off, we noticed immediately and it just got worse from there.”
They tried the takeout model but it just didn’t work with their business. Their business specializes in fresh salads and soups. Ingredients don’t last long and waste begins to add up quickly when business isn’t steady. It’s the same story at many other places.
“We’re losing much less money by being closed because just the loss of food by being open, having to buy the fresh produce every day and things like that we don’t sell it so we end up throwing it away," Barlow said.
Food Fanatics Kitchen said the recent change in state law allowing them to serve mixed drinks to go has been a good boost to the bottom line, but things are still tight. They are doing their own deliveries to help cut costs and keep their employees working. They’re treading water like crazy, but say as long as they’re breaking even, they’re going to be open.
“We were a little concerned about how well it was going to take off but right now we’re able to keep all of employees on staff," Smith said.
A fewer number of restaurants are also now closed because of the virus itself. Some have had employees exposed to the virus, and others feel its best for their employees to be safe at home.