Local Restaurants Adapting Throughout COVID-19

Sliders available at Cork and Ale

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WAXHAW, NC – As North Carolina prepared to move into Stage 2.5 on September 4, 2020, the TriW News reached out to some local restaurants to find out how they have made it through Stages 1 and 2. Stage 2.5 will see increased openings for playgrounds, museums, aquariums, and gyms, as well as mass gatherings that can be increased to 25 people indoors or 50 people outdoors. Stage 1 was put into place on March 27, 2020; Stage 2 began on July 14. Lincoln Sveda, the owner of Saveeda’s American Bistro, said “COVID will forever change the hospitality industry for restaurateurs and it’s guests. I am hopeful this will be behind us soon, so we can move forward.”

An employee of Hacienda El Rey gets a smile from a satisfied customer (Courtesy of Hacienda El Rey)
An employee of Hacienda El Rey gets a smile from a satisfied customer (Courtesy of Hacienda El Rey)

Some restaurants were scheduled to open when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Nelly Martinez and Flor Juarez, Owners of Hacienda El Rey, opened their restaurant during the pandemic. “The whole process of opening a new business became almost impossible,” said Martinez and Juarez. “We had setbacks left and right, from permitting and distributors, to even remodeling. But together with our staff, we decided we had one option: Fight! We began offering dine-in with all COVID-19 advance precautions, as well as takeout, drive-thru pickup, and contactless delivery. We decided to find the positive every day we opened and in everything we did. We soon realized that once we stopped thinking about just ourselves, everyone was facing the same fears. We realized as a team, a business, a community, and a nation: We are all in this together!”

Individually wrapped loaves are ready to be sold at White Rabbit Cafe. (Courtesy of White Rabbit Cafe)
Individually wrapped loaves are ready to be sold at White Rabbit Cafe (Courtesy of White Rabbit Cafe)

Shawn Causby, Owner of White Rabbit Cafe, and Adrienne Bucklin, Manager, have also opened a brand new business during the pandemic. “We opened up in the midst of the pandemic so have no idea what it would have been like before,” said Causby and Bucklin. “The business has been hard, but our customers make it worth continuing to try and make it work. Also, most coffee shops thrive on people wanting a place to get together with others, and although we work very hard to provide a place that people can safely social distance, it is still something many people are fearful of doing.”

Even the established restaurants in Waxhaw felt a big shift in how the area eats out. Lee McShane, Co-Owner of Mary O’Neill’s, shared, “The first few months of lockdown were extremely tough as we wanted to keep as many of our staff in jobs as possible. We did so by offering curbside takeout and running a delivery service. We are grateful for the people of Waxhaw who supported us through that phase. Moving through the new phases of opening, we wanted to make sure customers felt as welcome in the restaurant as always in what is the new normal.”

Lisa Vigil, Co-Owner of Provisions Waxhaw, has also seen her business shift as a result of the pandemic. “All staff members and customers are masked,” says Vigil. We disinfect tables, chairs, door handles, shopping baskets, etc. often. We are asking customers to enter with a mask on, and hand sanitizer is available at the front door. We always have the customers’ health in mind, and although times are different, we hope that we still offer the Southern charm we always have. We recently added a Sospeso Coffee Roasters bar into our regular daily service, and that starts at 7:00 am every morning. Customers may come in or call for a quick cup of local coffee and a breakfast sandwich or pastry.“

The Queen's South staff is masked up and ready to serve. (Courtesy of Queen's South)
The Queen’s South staff is masked up and ready to serve (Courtesy of Queen’s South)

Meanwhile, some businesses took the opportunity to expand their offerings and menus. Cork & Ale Co-owner, Bernard Arthur, says that they used the time to upgrade their POS ordering system to accommodate online orders and payments. “We have expanded our menu, hours, and social media presence,” says Arthur. “We’ve added new wines and new wine vendors along with a new dessert menu. We are so grateful that the local community has been so supportive.” Donna Zeilfelder, Co-Owner of Queens South, explains how she and her staff have grown: “Through COVID, we adapted to doing a lot of takeout and adjusting our staff to accommodate that. We have added online ordering and hired five new delivery drivers so that we can offer delivery to those who prefer to stay home. We have spaced all our tables and barstools to allow maximum social distance and provide hand sanitizer for everyone!”

Sugar Rush's Chocolate Crumb Cake. (Courtesy of @katherineelenaphotography (Instagram)
Sugar Rush’s Chocolate Crumb Cake. (Courtesy of @katherineelenaphotography (Instagram)

There have been broader changes to consumer habits as well. Joyce Zirhan, co-owner of Java Brewing, Bakery & Cafe, mentioned that the workweek, lunchtime has really quieted down. “During the day, it has been very quiet,” says Zirhan, “but weekends are busier. We also work with the local schools to offer lunch to kids who were supposed to get their meals in school.” Nothing Bundt Cakes Owner, Betsy Lamb, shared, “We worked with our staff and franchise office to come up with a plan to reopen with limited hours before moving to full time again. There has been an uptick in sales and I think everyone is looking for a little joy and celebration and cakes!”

Lamb isn’t the only one who has noticed an uptick in sales for the sweeter things in life. Shannon Mauro, Owner and Baker of Sugar Rush, has been amazed and so thankful for her customers. “Customers have been sensitive to supporting local, small businesses like mine,” says Mauro. “My crumb cakes are also a comfort food that brings many positive memories to my customers, so they have been seeking them out during these difficult times. The business has exploded – customers have been incredibly supportive of my passion/business and I’ve been adapting as it expands.”

Every restaurant that I spoke to for this article mentioned how thankful they are for the local community and the continuing support. Barry Steiger, General Manager for Mario’s Italian Restaurant & John’s Place, mentioned, “Although COVID has greatly impacted our business, we are grateful for our customers that have supported us through this unprecedented time. We proudly support Homes for Heroes! Please continue to make “our home” yours!!! THANK YOU from our entire staff!”

Homes for Heroes Lender Affiliate, Tony Garshnick, has enjoyed seeing the local restaurants and businesses come together to support our local First Responders. “We are always looking for more Heroes to honor, and you can nominate your own hero at NominateALocalHero.com.  Heroes include military (active, reserves, and veterans), law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, healthcare professionals, and teachers.”  Garshnick works to honor heroes with gift cards and gifts donated by the sponsors at a monthly awards ceremony.  “Thank you to all of our sponsors who help us recognize the heroes among us including Provisions Waxhaw, Stacks, 701 Main, Fox’s Pizza Den, Mario’s Italian Restaurant/John’s Place, Java’s Brewery, Bakery & Cafe, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Mary O’Neills, Emmet’s Social Table, Siela Boutique, UpLevel Martial Arts, Atlantic Bay Mortgage, and Abernathy Properties.”

Finally, don’t forget to keep supporting locally-owned businesses. As UpTown Tea Shop Owner, Dani Noto, said, “Take care of yourself, but get out and support your local businesses because if you don’t, they won’t be here. [Purchasing] Online can be slightly cheaper, but you aren’t putting money back into the local economy. My motto is: ‘See it here, buy it here, keep me here!’”

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Tara Botero
A. Tara Botero was born and raised in the South but only recently moved to Waxhaw, NC in November 2014. She has a horse, Cooper, with whom she spends many hours on the trails. Tara has been in love with photography for over 20 years and joined Tri-W News as a photographer and reporter in August 2016.