Restaurants and caterers cope with coronavirus fallout, ramp up sanitation efforts
When the government tells you to stay home and to cancel large gatherings, it's no doubt going to have a negative effect on businesses that depend on big events, or require customers walking in and spending money to stay afloat.
This includes restaurants, bars and caterers. Some restaurants Thursday took a proactive stance and ramped up carry out efforts.
Saffron De Twah, a new and popular Moroccan restaurant in Detroit's east side, has temporary closed its tiny dining room. The restaurant is still operating as a carry-out business that will bring food to customers as they wait in their car.
"We are hurting," said chef and owner Omar Qais Anani, who decided to close the dining room due to safety concerns for the community. "People want to dine in and I'm turning them away."
Anani, whose small eatery was recently name-dropped on several local media "best-of" lists, was on a "hiring frenzy" a week ago due to an increase in popularity. But because of the coronavirus, business is suffering amid canceled catering orders and the decision to close the dining room.
Most restaurants are trying to stay open during this strange time, and are promoting extra safety and disinfecting measures.
Hazel, Ravines and Downtown in Birmingham, Stage Deli in West Bloomfield Township and Zao Jun in Bloomfield Township are also offering curbside pick-up for carry-out customers.
David Kraus, director of operations at Zao Jun, estimates that reservations are only down "a blip" — maybe 5-10% — but they have had a few larger events postponed to a later date. They have noticed an uptick in delivery and carry-out orders.
They already had a hardy carry-out and delivery business, and even have two parking spaces near the restaurant's entrance, which is in the strip mall on Telegraph just south of West Maple. To ease customers' fears further, the Asian-fusion restaurant will now bring out the food directly to the customer's car.
"We thought that might provide some additional comfort for our guests," Kraus said, adding that many of their customers are older and live nearby. "If you feel safer staying in your car, one of our staff will bring your food out to you."
"We've been talking for a couple weeks now here on how to plan for this, if it got any worse," he said, adding that they've encouraged all employees who feel under the weather to stay home, and making sure those in-house are wearing clean uniforms.
"Making sure everybody's always working with gloves, we actually have our kitchen staff setting timers for every 20 minutes making sure its really overkill with washing their hands," Kraus said.
Zao Jun, which opened last May, has hosted a few sports-watching parties over the past year. Kraus expects the cancellation of NHL and NBA games to be a concern for the restaurant.
"Normally I would expect that next week when the (NCAA) tournaments started that we would get a lot of traffic for the games," he said. "That's probably going to hit us. I'm sure all business are going to feel the effects."
He said the business lost is secondary to the safety of the community.
"I've got a feeling if it sustains where it is right now that people tend to be creatures of their community, and that I think they'll get out and walk over here ... they'll understand that we take utmost care in what we do."
Possibly the hardest hit are the food businesses behind big events that have been canceled. Tim Idzikowski of Detroit BBQ Company said he's lost around $10,000 worth of business because of canceled events, including lunches at Ford plants.
He was scheduled to serve pulled pork, burnt ends and other barbecue staples at Friday's Whiskey Festival at Eastern Market, a gig that usually brings in$3,500 worth of sales. The event has been postponed until June 12 due to virus concerns.
Now, with the postponement of Major League Baseball games, Idzikowski's current worry is the likely loss of another catering job booked downtown on March 30 for the Detroit Tigers home opener. He is grateful, however, that Detroit BBQ Company is still scheduled to serve Saturday at the Greenhouse medial marijuana provisioning center in Walled Lake, which is celebrating its first day of recreational marijuana sales Saturday.
"Thank God the weed stores are staying open," Idzikowski said.
Bars and restaurants that depend on big events like parades and national sports games are doing their best. With the cancellation of Sunday's St. Patrick's Parade in Corktown, businesses in that area are not shutting down but instead are trying to salvage the party.
McShane's Pub and Whiskey Bar manager Kyle Catarino said Wednesday businesses along Michigan Avenue that would normally be packed on parade day are pow-wowing to organize some kind of weekend-long bar crawl to keep the stools occupied.
"The Nemo's buses and the McShane's buses are going to be shuttling people around to the local restaurants and bars ... we're just trying to figure it out any way we can," he said. "It's still going to be busy."
Nationally, the concern of the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the James Beard Foundation to postpone its chef and restaurant award ceremony scheduled for May 4 in Chicago. The April 24 media awards in New York City are also being pushed back.
"Of prime concern is the health and safety of our staff, volunteers, committee members, sponsors, nominees, and all attendees. We also recognize the responsibility of every organization and individual to do what they can to contain the spread of the virus," reads the official James Beard Foundation statement in a press release issued Thursday afternoon.
"We will continue to work with our partners in the coming weeks to identify new dates for all three Awards ceremonies, and will work with chefs and others in the industry to navigate the complicated leadership challenges and the economic impact this pandemic may have on their businesses now and in the future."
The March 25 announcement of final nominees, made from Philadelphia, is to go on as scheduled. Several Michigan chefs and restaurants, most from Metro Detroit, were listed as semifinal nominees this year.