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Restaurants’ Survival

Area businesses, agencies and municipalities fought through COVID-19 to continue growing, working and helping others. This article looks at how restaurants faced the pandemic.
See Sunday’s Progress 2021 special section to learn about how others fared.

Local restaurant owners faced economic hardship, experienced loss of business and exhibited adaptability as they tried to keep their businesses up and running throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawton Parnell, owner of Cheese Louise, said challenges his restaurant faced included being temporarily shut down in accordance with state mandates and decreased business due to individuals choosing to stay inside and go out less.

While Cheese Louise was not featured on food delivery services prior to the pandemic, the restaurant started using such services to reach customers who couldn’t or wouldn’t visit the restaurant in person.

“We did stuff like Grubhub and Doordash. It’s not bad, but they do take a big chunk of your revenue with the commission fees,” Parnell said.

Cheese Louise also added a food truck. 

Staff drove the truck around and visited different neighborhoods.

“The food truck would draw a pretty big audience when we went to a neighborhood, especially for the first time,” Parnell said.

Cheese Louise is back open to full capacity, though the restaurant is small and does mostly takeout orders.

The restaurant plans on sticking with Grubhub and Doordash and keeping the food truck around.

“There’s a lot of events opening back up, festivals and stuff  that people are doing,” Parnell said. “We’ve already done a couple of them. That’s a nice, positive sign.” 

Grace Hutchens owns Zeke’s Breakfast and Bakes in downtown Morgantown. Zeke’s was an endeavor Hutchens pursued in the middle of the pandemic, opening in September 2020.

Initially, the restaurant was only offering takeout and to-go order services. When the weather grew cold, Zeke’s began to offer limited dine-in options.

“The biggest challenge right now is that people are getting more comfortable coming out to eat, so we’re running into a little bit of bottlenecks with people that want to do dine-in vs. takeout, and just finding that balance of offering plated meals and to-go meals and catering certain foods that travel a little better in to-go,” she said.

Hutchens is also the owner of Apothecary Ale House & Café on Chestnut Street. That business has been open longer than Zeke’s and has a history of serving the Morgantown community outside of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Apothecary had to develop an online presence and options as well as changing its approach to purchasing decisions. It also experienced changes to its seating capacity.

The biggest current concern of both establishments is making sure staff are fully vaccinated.

“That’s been our priority number one: Passing on information to them to make sure they know where they can access the vaccine,” Hutchens said. “That’s been our first step in trying to make sure that we’re all safe and taken care of.” 

Moving forward, Apothecary might expand occupancy and bring back limited events. 

As for Zeke’s, Hutchens and the staff are waiting to see how the year progresses.

Neither Zeke’s nor Apothecary is in a hurry to open up completely before given the go-ahead by the state. 

Gary Tannenbaum, owner of the Blue Moose Café on Walnut Street, said the café endured many hardships during the pandemic.

“There’s so much. To put it in a nutshell, though, the Blue Moose — like many other businesses — has had to adapt to horrible circumstances in the business world,” Tannenbaum said.

Business ceased for Blue Moose in March 2020. Since then, people have still been reluctant to go out, resulting in only minimally increased business for the café.

Blue Moose was takeout only for some time, and its employees relied on the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program to get by.

The café offered outdoor seating when the weather permitted. Eventually, it was able to reopen limited indoor seating.

The café temporarily shut down again in January, reopening in March. During the shutdown, Blue Moose underwent renovations to improve air filtration and ventilation.

Now, the café is working on opening up a bit more indoor seating while still observing social distancing measures and requiring masks, unless customers are seated.

Tannenbaum said the café also had to close its kitchen in December. It has remained shut down, and the café’s menu has been limited to what front-of-house staff can make.

“For the future, I’d be looking at rethinking the kitchen and the menu, get that going. There’s some other irons in the fire, too,” he said.

Jim Cellurale, owner of Marilyn’s of Morgantown, said the biggest challenge his restaurant faced was implementing social distancing measures and extensive sanitation procedures.

“That would take into consideration the six-foot rule, masks, sanitation, disinfection — all of those things were new as far as the rate that you had to enact those, as well as employees learning new procedures and the [protection] that was necessary to be around the public,” he said.

While Marilyn’s indoor seating was not available, the restaurant adapted to offering takeout only.

Cellurale said he is sympathetic to the whole service industry and the adversity all have endured. He said only recently has there been a letup on the restrictions applied to the industry during the past year.

He said he is aware not all service industry businesses have been able to survive the pandemic and that he, his coworkers and his staff are fortunate to have done so.

Marilyn’s is also taking a wait-and-see approach in terms of how it will move forward. It plans to adhere to CDC guidelines as well as those put out by the state and Monongalia County.

“Being that this is a once-in-a-lifetime event, and no one saw it coming and everybody’s sort of playing catch up and doing the best they can as things unfold, we’re in that same boat and doing the same thing,” Cellurale said. “I don’t know if things will ever go back to the way that they were, but as things are pointed out and directed to us, we pass those along and follow those.” 

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