ERLANGER, Ky. – As COVID-10 restrictions grew, Matt Grimes, watched as his number of employees decreased.
“We went from nearly 50 employees to ten on staff, and greatly reduced our hours of operation to save on payroll expenses,” says Grimes, who owns Colonial Cottage in Erlanger.
For Colonial Cottage, which focuses on in-house dining, March is generally a transition month for the restaurant’s busy season, “coming in like a kitten and out like a lion,” as Grimes says. But with social-distancing in place, he was already seeing the impact on business when, on March 16, Gov. Andy Beshear called for Kentucky restaurants to close their dining rooms as a way to slow the spread of coronavirus.
“By mid-March, we normally add staff and get ready for a busy spring and early summer,” says Grimes. “This year, our business fell off dramatically March 12, and fell again March 16 when we were closed to in-house dining.”
Quickly spinning into curbside-only service, Grimes says business fell to one tenth of what it should have been, and he learned that few customers wanted to order breakfast throughout the week when they were home with the family.
“Goetta and eggs was replaced with a bowl of cereal with the kids,” says Grimes.
It wasn’t lost on Grimes that restaurants with drive-through service were in a much better position than restaurants like Colonial Cottage, which focus on in-house dining. He didn’t give up. He got creative.
“We realized we had to redefine our process if we wanted to compete with the restaurants that didn’t have much retooling. We eliminated some parking spaces and created a curbside traffic patterns with orange cones and colored tape. We started having cookouts on weather-friendly days. A big grill sizzling with fresh hot items draws attention on a normally busy Dixie Highway.”
Now, for Grimes and other Erlanger restaurateurs who are valiantly trying to keep their businesses alive during an unprecedented time, some of the burden they’ve carried might lessen.
In an effort to assist Erlanger’s restaurants that are hurting from COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, Erlanger Mayor Jessica Fette has signed an executive order to suspend the city’s outdoor zoning regulations on restaurants. That order comes on the heels of Gov. Beshear’s announcement that Kentucky restaurants can open dining rooms on May 22, but at only 33 percent capacity indoors, and unlimited outdoor dining with adherence to social distancing guidelines.
Fette hopes that lifting barriers to profitable solutions will ease the burden on Erlanger’s restaurateurs and food industry professionals.
“With the struggles that our Erlanger restaurants have encountered due to the pandemic, the City of Erlanger needs to remove any barrier to getting their businesses back up and running,” says Fette. “The suspension of our outside seating zoning requirements gives restaurants the ability to think outside of the box and outside of their walls.”
Grimes’s new construction budget for outdoor dining will get a boost of financial support from a City of Erlanger LEGACY grant. LEGACY grants are available to qualified legacy small businesses in Erlanger that are looking to make capital improvements to their buildings through façade and exterior improvements.
Among the 22 restaurants located in Erlanger, there’s a strong sense of community. Grimes says the people and restaurants in Erlanger understand that they’re all in this together, noting that restaurants have supported one another, ordering meals from each other’s restaurants, sometimes for entire staffs.
“For the restaurant people in Erlanger, we are probably closer now than we have ever been,” says Grimes. “We see each other in the restaurant supply stores and frequently compare notes in the hope of making our operations more efficient.”