We all saw them. The headlines, the social media posts, the tweets, and the DM’s. We saw the red dots on maps getting closer to our hometowns. And I, like everyone else, felt COVID-19 creeping ever closer to my city, felt it in the suspicious glance on the street when I sneezed into my elbow. Felt it in the supermarket, on the empty shelves. In front of the TV screen, where I slumped after a 14-hour shift. And then felt it keenly when I walked into the dining room of my restaurant during brunch last Sunday, and saw my servers ricocheting between tables packed with good-intentioned customers who could all get us sick.
I was in denial. I admit it. My restaurant had been full in the three days following the news that there had been 11 cases documented in Wisconsin, and then three in Milwaukee where I live and run my business, a vegan restaurant that has been open for less than two years. And then there were six confirmed cases, one at the university two miles away. My manager gently urged me to sit down so we could talk through how to proceed. It was during brunch and the two of us were in the basement. Three other bar owners we knew had just announced that they were closing their businesses. “But they seat over 50 people,” I argued, “we seat only 27.” As soon as I heard that statement come out of my mouth, I realized how ridiculous it sounded.
And so we decided to close our dining room and move to curbside pick up and delivery. I cried for a minute out of fear and anxiety. What was I going to tell my staff? How could I make enough money to make payroll? What about rent? My business loan? What if one of my employees gets sick and it’s my fault? What if no one orders from us? How are we going to deliver? We sorted out a plan after pouring ourselves some liquid courage. It felt good to make a decision. To decide what was best for us- come what may.
Forty-eight hours later, here’s where we are- a reduced schedule for our staff but each employee still has shifts. Clear messaging on social media and our website about how to order curbside pick up and place a delivery order. Clear instructions that the server on duty keeps the door locked and doesn’t let customers in, not even to use the bathroom. They run orders outside while wearing gloves. My manager Nina and I are delivering orders personally to save money but also to ensure that customers get the best, most personalized service. And kick-ass gluten free, vegan brownies on special, covered in rainbow and gold sprinkles- End Of The Rainbow Brownies, to tempt folks. Online gift certificates (Nina’s idea!) that customers can buy now to use later to help with cash flow.
Tomorrow we launch. I don’t know what to expect, but in the last 24 hours we have sold seven gift certificates. Customers have sent me direct messages cheering us on and employees are ready to get to work. I feel, encouraged. I feel like I’m ready to give this all that I’ve got. I have a large roll of paper and I am going to tape it on the outside of my restaurant window so people can write encouraging messages to passers-by- keep the faith, #mycity, Flatten the Curve, we’re all in this together, wash your hands, go away virus, and- we’ll see each other again soon at the end of the rainbow.