The coronavirus pandemic has seemingly turned the world upside down. With the increasing safety guidelines, procedures, and measures taken to protect the community, small businesses are taking the fall.
Many businesses have shifted their focus to contact-free takeout, curbside service, or delivery. And while all of these methods continue to serve the community, they are not enough to sustain some of these businesses relying on income from graduation parties, proms, and other events. The owner of Table 128 Bistro, Sarah Pritchard, commented, “Our operations are down 70%.” Many cuts to staff and typical restaurant routines are being implemented in order to stay in compliance with the Governor’s regulations. Mahalo’s Mini Donuts and catering owner Tron Dandy noted the struggle to keep up with standards. “We had to decide on our seventeen staff who we could safely keep on. Most of our staff is in high school and a few are immune-compromised. We have been successfully operating with 7 of us but we wish and hope we can bring the others back on board. We have a small work area and the least amount of people working eliminates the exposure we face daily,” Dandy emphasized. The owner of Gastro Grub and Pub Sean Gleason explained, “restaurants have one of the smallest profit margins of any type of business, out there with margins ranging from 3 to 5 percent on average. Adaptation is absolutely necessary especially for a small business such as ours that does not have the money of a big corporation to back us.” These restaurant’s need to maintain compensation and support for all of their workers is the highest priority. In order to do that, Mahalo’s Mini Donuts has provided many discounts to keep people buying, but this has increased their costs and lowered their profit. “We have to do what keeps customers coming into Mahalo’s,” Dandy said.
The biggest adjustment that these businesses have made is the addition of takeout meals. Table 128 started Takeout Tuesdays, a contactless meal subscription that delivers an assortment of your choice of sandwiches, soups, salads, desserts, and beverages to your house each Tuesday. Jeni Betts, the Waukee Fresh Meditteranean Express owner, described their new situation. “We have partnered with the Principal Financial Group Foundation to participate in the Giving Chain. We are providing a large number of meals to the Oakridge Neighborhood two times a week,” Betts explained. The cafe is also offering free meals to healthcare workers in support of their dedication to the community. In addition to giving back, Fresh Meditteranean Express has also started offering takeout, online ordering, drive-thru, and delivery to keep their business above water. Mahalo Mini Donuts’ transition to takeout has increased volume recently. “We normally take five to ten calls a day,” Dandy emphasized. “We now have in excess of 100 [calls] on the later days of the week and weekends.”
Donald Trump announced his Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to help keep small businesses like these alive. The treasury offered $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses during the pandemic. Small businesses will receive this money if they keep all employees and compensation the same, according to the US Treasury. There has been some backlash, however, as some banks have made it clear to the President that they cannot handle the influx of money from the White House in a timely, organized manner. Many adjustments have been made so that banks can better provide the money for the millions of small businesses in need. Many local businesses have applied and are hoping for some relief. Mahalo’s Tron Dandy explained, “We have applied and are awaiting results. We anticipate that if awarded, we will most definitely utilize the support for paying our staff as the labor costs have skyrocketed utilizing only five people.” Similar to Dandy, Betts of Fresh Meditteranean applied also. “We are hopeful that the PPP administered by the SBA will help our business and many others in the community,” Betts stated. On the other hand, Sarah Pritchard of Table 128 is wary of the loan and its promises. “It is a complicated situation and when you close a business down it’s hard to utilize the PPP funds,” Pritchard admitted. In addition to Table 128, Gastro Grub and Pub has not received much help from the PPP plan. “The PPP loan, in particular, had stipulations in it that does not work for most restaurant business models,” owner Sean Gleason explained. However, Gleason noted that being able to defer tax payments has been helpful, at least for the time being.
One of the most powerful methods of gaining business is social media, and these businesses are using it to their advantage. Mahalo’s Mini Donuts has been pushing their social media presence. “We have been fortunate to have a great following and have great support from customers sharing about us. We have nearly 400 new likes on our Facebook page which is pushing 9K likes,” Dandy emphasized. This helps strengthen the support of the business and brings in new customers. Jeni Betts explained that she uses social media to keep the community updated and informed on any changes, sales, or deals at Fresh Meditteranean Express. While each of these businesses has changed their business plan, schedule, and specialties, one thing has remained the same, and that is the community. Each business made it clear how grateful they are for the support of the community and the opportunity to continue to serve. Jeni Betts of Fresh Meditteranean expressed, “This is a time for community. It’s great to see everyone banding together in these unprecedented times.” Each restaurant strives to keep a sense of community by staying open. Sarah Pritchard of Table 128 mentioned, “Hopefully [our restaurant] provides community and comfort in the form of delicious and healthy food.” Sean Gleason of Gastro Grub and Pub appreciates the support from the community that allows them to keep their doors open. “We feel that we offer a sense of normalcy in a way by continuing to serve delicious food, cocktails, beer and wine,” Gleason noted.
While this pandemic continues on its course, don’t forget about the small businesses in need. Sarah Pritchard emphasized, “Order food, participate in takeout, and support your neighborhood restaurants!” These businesses have many options that are clean, healthy, and risk-free. Their businesses depend on the community, and they need the community now more than ever. Each of these businesses is dedicated to continuing to serve and emulate a feeling of normalcy with comfort food. Take part in Takeout Tuesday with Table 128, drive-thru the Fresh Meditteranean Express, order out from Gastro Grub and Pub and get some deals on Mahalo’s Mini Donuts.
Table 128 https://www.table128bistro.com 515-327-7427
Fresh Meditteranean Express http://freshmediterraneanexpress.com 515-987-6870
Gastro Grub and Pub https://www.gastrogrubpub.com 515-300-2460
Mahalos Coffee, Mini Donuts, and Catering http://www.mahaloscoffee.com 515-218-8018