Before Gov. Jim Justice announced the closure of all restaurants and bars in West Virginia Tuesday night, the owners of some Charleston-area establishments spent the day laying off employees and preparing for an uncertain future.
Some local staples in the city — Books and Brews, The Block and Bridge Road Bistro — shut their doors Tuesday for an undetermined amount of time, while other Charleston restaurant owners are looking to survive the coronavirus outbreak whatever way they can.
Kevin Madison, manager of Black Sheep Burritos and Brews Charleston, said the company’s Charleston and Huntington locations are down from more than 100 employees to just 30.
“We are forced to do this or we’re not going to survive,” Madison said. “We ultimately had to make this terrible decision that these are the people we have to let go.
“It messes with your heart, it messes with your head, it’s not good,” Madison said about being forced into layoffs. “We would have never thought we’d be in that position. All we can hope is that we come back bigger and better.”
Sandy Call, owner of Bridge Road Bistro in Charleston’s South Hills and the Sunset Grill in Huntington, said her businesses are closing their doors for the time being.
“We have 65 employees ... everybody’s unemployed; they’ve started the process of applying for temporary unemployment,” Call said. “I can’t even express to you the pain, because I am supposed to help supply livings for them and their families, and I can’t even do that for myself. I’m beyond heartbroken.
“We come in contact with a lot of guests that come in from Yeager Airport, they come in from out of town, they come in from out of the country, and it’s just our due diligence to do the right thing.”
Keeley Steele, owner of Bluegrass Kitchen, Tricky Fish and Starlings Coffee and Provisions — all on Charleston’s East End — said she’s had to lay off about 75 percent of her staff.
“We knew that was coming,” Steele said. “They knew it was coming, too. No one was surprised.”
Steele said she has consolidated her businesses for the time being, so some Tricky Fish items will appear on Bluegrass’ menu Wednesday.
Some restaurants and bars are in the process of transitioning to carryout and delivery service. Some have an idea about how that might look, but others are still working through it.
“What we’re thinking about doing is a family-style dinner, like takeouts of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, or pasta and chicken that’s in portions of four or six or eight people,” said Deno Stanley, owner of Adelphia Sports Bar & Grille on Capitol Street.
Stanley said he hasn’t laid off any employees yet, but without some kind of stimulus package from the federal or state governments, things could change quickly.
“Just taking out a loan would nowhere near sustain me, so I’d be looking at whether I’d possibly have to close my doors through this crisis,” Stanley said. “Servers that are below minimum wage on the hour, these people won’t be able to survive. I will have to try to supply something. I am prepared to try to provide some type of stimulus package for my employees while we’re not open and working, if the government is going to help us do that.”
Des Baklarov, owner of The Block on Capitol Street, said he’s closing his doors, too.
“Based on everything, it’s impossible to stay open,” he said.
Baklarov also is counting on a federal stimulus package to keep employees paid.
“[Staying open] probably depends on what comes out of Washington [D.C.], pretty much,” he said.
Small, but still goingSome of Capitol Street’s smaller businesses on Tuesday were already preparing for the inevitable, they said.
Morgan Morrison, co-owner of Rock City Cake Company, said a decision was made Monday to close their storefront and start providing sidewalk and curbside service.
“I think, regardless of if [closing down] was mandated or not, everybody’s worried and not many people are getting out, so we tried to be proactive in that situation,” Morrison said.
Morrison said Rock City is just “rolling with the punches” for the near future. The company is down from eight employees to four and has decreased the number of menu items and limited the store’s hours.
“We’re going to keep going until they tell us we can’t go,” Morrison said.
Ellen Beal, owner of Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream, said her store has reduced hours and was forced to lay off 15 mostly high-school-aged part-time employees.
Here to help locallyDickinson Gould, president of Buzz Food Service, is encouraging residents to not give up on their local eateries. Gould helped launch Charleston’s Restaurant Week in the wake of the 2014 water crisis, and is looking to start a “Distance Socially, Eat Locally” movement during the coronavirus outbreak.
“The message is, if you want to support local businesses, the best way to do that is to call and order food. Whether they’re offering local delivery through any number of services or if they’re offering curbside pickup, whatever their alternative is, if you have a local restaurant that you love and you want to support, then find a way to make use of them,” Gould said.
A business that might help with that is Charleston2Go, a food delivery and carryout service for nearly 45 local businesses.
“We lowered our minimums to kind of help everyone out. We know not everyone’s going to throw that much money out at the same time,” General Manager Victor Barron said. “[It] isn’t a lot, but it’s something we can afford to do right now, just trying to help out in little ways as much as we can.”
Barron said the company now offers contact-free delivery service, to respect social distancing guidelines.