Your favorite places to eat have begun to reopen after a tough month or more of business. When the coronavirus pandemic first appeared, state orders had kept dining areas closed and forced some restaurants to close completely or start only offering curbside pickup or delivery of their meals.
As Gov. Tate Reeves recently relaxed measures for allowing but limiting the size of gatherings inside restaurants, DeSoto County eateries have begun a slow transition away from their business operations in the past month of the pandemic.
For instance, Melissa Cookston of Memphis Barbecue Company in Horn Lake said the restaurant reopened at 50 percent capacity on May 7. Cookston said the strict state guidelines for reopening have been followed.
“The state mandated that we separate tables by six feet, and only seat groups of six or less,” Cookston said. “All of our servers and hosts wear masks at all times, and we have sanitation procedures exceeding the standards of the CDC. We wash all tables/booths, etc with hot, soapy water, then sanitation solution, then we pass a virus-destroying UV light over everything. We are constantly wiping down points of contact, such as doors, as well.”
The timing of the pandemic’s start hit the restaurant hard, Cookston said, because March is typically the start of a “super-busy” season, as she put it. Priority one was keeping as many employees on the job as possible, although there were some furloughs. However, as Cookston said, “We were able to quickly call everyone back and still are looking to hire more people.”
Curbside delivery has worked well along with online ordering through the restaurant’s website at memphisbbqco.com. Third-party delivery services, such as Doordash, were enlisted to keep sales moving and provide an additional service to customers and keep employees.
Memphis Barbecue Company was among many to step up and provide food to health providers and first responders on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak.
“Another thing we did was to feed the real heroes in this thing, the police, firemen, and healthcare workers,” Cookston said. “I am a brand ambassador for Prairie Fresh Pork, and they donated pork butts for us. We fed an entire shift at Baptist-DeSoto! Doing that, and feeding other groups, helped keep our employees busy and hopefully helped give a bit of a smile to the first responders out there.”
Cookston admits the pandemic could mean the death knell for some others in her industry.
“This has been a major trauma for the restaurant industry, and I fear many restaurants will be closed permanently,” Cookston said. “To add to the problems, we are facing huge meat shortages and price increases due to supply issues. This will be felt across the restaurant world and in groceries for at least the next month.”
Lovers of pizza will be excited about the opening of their favorite pizza place, such as the well-known Avellino’s on Goodman Road East in Southaven.
But, during the shutdown, owner Mike McCune has felt the restaurant has weathered things well.
“We have been fortunate in not having to have laid any of our employees off during this crisis,” McCune said. “In the first three weeks, when we were directed to close the dining room, we did suffer revenue. However, we hAvellino'se always maintained a strong carry-out business so that we were basically able to shore-up that side of the business, especially compared to some other restaurants.”
About 30 employees are on staff at Avellino's, including seven full-timers and the rest part-time.
McCune said there has been a slow return of patrons to his eatery with the easing of restaurant restrictions.
“It was a bit of a surprise for us that customers didn't immediately come back into the store,” McCune said. “It appears that some customers are still a little concerned about getting out in public. But the impact just hasn't happened as we thought it would.”
McCune said people in the restaurant business should look at the pandemic as a learning experience for the future.
“It's been a challenge for everybody in the business, and no matter how this virus situation ends we need to look at this as a model for whatever may come next, and be prepared,” he stated.
In Olive Branch, Sue Liang, manager of Oishi Japanese Express on Camp Creek Blvd., is back open, but for carryout only. Liang said she was not sure when the dining area may be reopened and for now, Oishi’s food is pick up only at the door.
“We closed for 5-6 weeks and we’ve just reopened on May 7,” Liang said. “We need to make sure of everybody’s safety, and that’s we had customers pick up their food at the door.”
Liang said as she brings the food to the customer at the door, she is constantly washing her hands to fight the virus.
“Every time after a customer, I have to go back to the kitchen and wash my hands,” Liang said. “Either with hand soap or hand sanitizer. I also wear gloves and a mask.”
Writer Mike Lee contributed to this article.