Two Meeker County restaurants — among many others — are doing what they have to do to stay alive during the coronavirus pandemic.
The feel of their restaurants has drastically changed for Chris Lease, manager of Red Goat Bar & Grill in Watkins, and Bethany Lee, co-owner of Tavern on Main in downtown Litchfield.
“It’s definitely cut more than a half,” Lease said about the effects COVID-19 pandemic has had on business at his family-owned restaurant. “The ability to have folks sitting down and ordering beverages and appetizers and all that fun stuff — it’s not here anymore. And a big part of our business is socializing.”
As a result of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s March 16 executive order for restaurants to close their bars and dine-in services, and other places of public accommodations, Lee and Lease have switched to takeout and delivery orders. They also have had to lay off some of their employees because bartending and serving positions aren’t needed.
“When there’s nobody to serve, nobody to attend bar for — makes it tough to have (those staff) in here,” Lease said.
It’s been about three years since Lee opened The Tavern on Main, and her restaurant was growing more active recently, she said.
“We were doing so well,” Lee said. “Even two (or) three weeks ago, we were having some of our busiest weeks since we opened. So that’s kind of painful, too, because we were kind of getting excited, because … we’re just starting to see an influx of money that we can actually do something with, and we’re not just paying for repairs. … We had a real profit.”
Her restaurant’s revenue has dropped between a quarter to a third of what it was making before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee said. But she and Lease have seen locals doing what they can to support their restaurants during these difficult times.
“People have been really, really good about … ordering like two times a day, or a lot of people are trying to order at least once a week from each restaurant,” Lee said. “So because it’s a small town, it’s working well.”
Lee also had to lay off some of her staff, which was a “tough pill to swallow,” she said, as most of them had been working there from the beginning — three years ago. But she has helped former staff apply for unemployment insurance until the COVID-19 pandemic goes away and things get better, Lee said.
“We said, ‘Hey guys, here’s the situation. We’re going to help you get on unemployment. Let’s do that,’” she said. “And then if there are opportunities for you to come in and help, we’ll try to find those.”
Although Lease’s Red Goat Bar & Grill restaurant business is doing OK, he said the restaurant closure has cut his normal business operation to about a half. But if it weren’t for community support, his restaurant might not have survived, he said.
“We have had a very good response with our to-go food, takeout available, and the community has just been fantastic in supporting,” Lease said. “I have had a couple of guys drive up here from Litchfield … who ordered food from here to help support us, and they are taking it back to Litchfield to go have their lunch break.”
Lease is hopeful that once things get back to normal, most of his previous staff will return.
“It’s a fun place to work,” he said. “Our summer months are coming up. Our summer is our patio season out there. We have a huge patio, and it’s our busiest time of the year.”
During these hard times, Lee said people should “stick it out and hang in there.”
“I think everybody’s doing their best,” Lee added. “And I think it’s important to remember that this isn’t a political thing. I don’t think it really needs to be made into one. I think this is something that can unite a very divided country right now, and a divided world. … We’re all doing this and handling this together.”