Restaurants worldwide are facing huge challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands and thousands have closed permanently and many more are hanging by a thread. Others are doing better but have had to adjust the way they do business significantly in order to survive. Whoever thought Log Haven, for example, would be doing takeout curbside meals?
Sadly, in SLC alone, we’ve permanently lost more restaurants than I have room to list here. But they include Cannella’s, which operated for 42 years, Alamexo, Mollie & Ollie, Elevo, the 9th & 9th Mazza location, Martine, Punch Bowl Social, Red Butte Cafe, and so many others. Operating a successful restaurant in the best of times is a very difficult thing to accomplish. During a pandemic, it’s next to impossible. It’s been nine months now since the world was turned on its head. I recently reached out to some local chefs and restaurateurs to see how they’re faring during this challenging moment in time. Some are actually able to shake their heads and laugh a little.
A restaurant like Stoneground Italian Kitchen is fortunate to have a gorgeous outdoor deck to dine on, as well as a spacious interior that makes social distancing feasible. Still, Stoneground has also implemented takeout and curbside dining such as their Weekend Suppers to go, take home pizza kits, and more.
Even during these trying times, Stoneground Executive Chef Justin Shifflett manages to stay positive. He starts by saying to anyone just reopening or who has just been open for a short time. “Things get better. I personally loved the challenge coming back from a pandemic, getting the crew together, and facing them head on. What I didn’t expect was how emotional it would be for everyone. Most of us were at home for weeks collecting unemployment, not sure what the future would bring but we were safe in our bubbles. Coming back we had to face the fears of a new world and none of us had thought how our psyches had been affected until hit dead on. Great leadership will get you through anything though, and I’m thankful we have that at Stoneground and in my personal life.”
As owner of WB’s Eatery and Pig & A Jelly Jar, Amy Wanderley-Britt says, in response to COVID-19 challenges, “We pivoted. We created new revenue streams: Market Meals and a lunch box delivery program, as well as gift packs called “Good Day Sunshine” that include our jam, waffle mix and house coffee, shipping nationally and coming to a doorstep near you soon. We will go to our guests if they can’t come to us is how I think it’s best described.”
She continues. “Pig & A Jelly Jar, Pig Kitchen and WB’s Eatery are committed to our team and community more than ever. We do meal donations to the Volunteers of America twice weekly, Buy 1 Give 1 socks for the women’s shelter, and give backs to Nuzzles and Co. no-kill animal shelter by way of our Beans and Bones. We are salmon swimming upstream, my friend, and if the bears, birds and what else the world brings our way don’t eat us, we will keep swimming!”
Co-owner and chef at SLC Eatery, Logen Crew says, “We’re being insanely cautious,” referring to social distancing, sanitization and such. “Luckily, the indoor tables at our restaurant were already spaced pretty far apart, so we only lost 10 seats due to social distancing.” In addition, he and his partner Paul Chamberlain spent thousands of dollars to create a beautiful outdoor dining area, complete with overhead lighting and covering. As if the pandemic isn’t enough to deal with, the hurricane force winds we had in early September destroyed most of the SLC Eatery patio and it had to be rebuilt.
Regarding the mandated closure of indoor dining during the early stages of the pandemic, Crew manages to put a positive spin saying, “I actually enjoyed the challenge of being a fancy food restaurant and having to create fast-casual food suited for takeout. I like to eat things like chicken sandwiches and burritos, so it was kind of fun to create fast food that was still interesting.”
My wife, Faith Scheffler, coordinates special events such as weddings and private parties at Log Haven restaurant in Millcreek Canyon. One of her biggest challenges for the past few months — especially during weddings — is getting folks to wear facial coverings when they are not seated at a table. “I hate having to be Mask Cop,” she says. Faith has heard so many excuses for not wearing masks— some of them pretty creative — that she’s compiled a list of them. Here are a few of her favorites: “I have immunity.” “I’m hot.” “It messes up my make-up.” “This is ridiculous.” And my favorite: “It messes up my beard.”
At Cucina Wine Bar, Executive Chef Joey Ferran says, “We have had to adapt and change as we go. When we first went into lockdown in the spring, we really upped our take out game, offering pasta and pizza kits complete with ingredients and directions for people to make our gourmet food at home. The pizza kits were received so well they are still sporadically available. Also, in an effort to remain environmentally conscious, I’ve sourced a full line of eco friendly containers made from sugar cane that look as good as the food, but eliminate the use of plastic.”
Ferran goes on to say, “The restaurant has stayed busy thanks to the warm weather as well as us expanding our patio into our parking lot in order to space our patrons as far apart as possible. We had to get creative once again to make the dining experience feel curated. We added planters of flowers, lights for ambiance, and weekly live music. Our staffing had to expand to include a server whose only job was to bus tables and sanitize every surface. Another factor that has helped is a stronger presence on social media.”
Maggie Alvarez, restaurant partner with her chef husband Matt Harris, opened Afterword in Heber, smack dab in the middle of the pandemic. “It’s going to be a really tough winter,” she predicts. “Our outdoor seating has been a blessing thus far, but I will need to tent it for the winter to keep seating capacity. There are still so many people who will only dine outdoors. In this state with our winter climate, that’s a really scary prospect for a restaurant.” Alvarez and Harris are hardcore outdoor adventurers; I’m betting on them to conquer this challenge, too.