MORGANTOWN — When Megan Samples received a personal call from the founder of Barstool Sports, she could hardly believe it.
“I was very surprised when he called, I was caught off guard,” said Samples, co-owner of Mountain Mama’s Tavern and Sports Bar. “I could take a step back and finally breathe.”
The veteran-owned and operated sports bar is one of nearly 300 small businesses to receive a donation from The Barstool Fund, a relief-fund created to help small businesses stay afloat through COVID-19. The fund has raised more than $36,000,000 to help small businesses, according to its website.
To apply for the donation, one of the bar’s customers submitted a video on behalf of the restaurant, detailing how COVID-19 has impacted the business. Soon after submitting the application, David Portnoy called Samples directly to give her the good news.
The donation was not just a one-time offer. Each month, the fund will reach out to Mountain Mama’s to check in to see how the business is doing. If need be, more funding can be allotted.
The bar has resided in its current location since 2017, and is owned by Samples and her husband. Through the years, it has become a Morgantown staple for locals to grab a drink, a bite to eat and cheer on their favorite sports teams.
Because of COVID-19, Samples said the bar’s crowd has become unpredictable. One week, the bar could be at full capacity, and the next, it is completely empty.
At the start of the pandemic, the bar mainly relied on take-out orders and growlers. Despite community support keeping the business alive, making up for losses has proven challenging.
“When it started off with take-out only, it was rough, but we were still getting business,” said Joseph Archer, kitchen manager at Mountain Mama’s.
Archer has worked at the sports bar for the past three years, but has worked kitchen jobs for over two decades. He said Mountain Mama’s has been his favorite place to work, and seeing the business empty was disheartening.
At one point, Samples feared they would need to permanently close the doors. Keeping them open required her to make a difficult decision between keeping the business they built from the ground up operating, or spending time with her family.
“I chose to work an insane amount of hours,” Samples said. “It was pretty much a sink or swim situation. Either I step away from my family and make it work, or we are done.”
As dine-in options return to the area, Archer said it has been exciting to see the bar come back to life.
“It’s kind of like watching a place that used to be busy all the time go down to nothing, and then, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, just coming back to life,” he said. “On the weekends especially, you can just feel the life coming back into the place.”
The long hours and late nights have finally paid off, Samples said. Since receiving the donation in early February, Samples said the business is back on track and the funding has been used to pay for rent and payroll.
After months filled with struggles and hardships, Samples said the donation has been invaluable.
“It’s been a huge game-changer,” she said. “I feel like we are finally on an upward trend instead of one step forward, 100 steps back.”