By Ben Olson
With restaurants opening for dine-in service last week after Gov. Brad Little announced the beginning of Stage 2 of the Idaho Rebounds COVID-19 reopening plan, we thought it would be a good opportunity to check in with a few of our local restaurant owners about how their businesses have fared in the age of coronavirus.
We emailed each three questions and have provided their answers below.
If you’re a restaurant owner and want to answer our three questions for a future edition of the Sandpoint Reader, please contact [email protected] with your answers.
1. What are the top three things you’ve learned about the food industry during this pandemic?
2. Do you see any opportunities for growth or pivoting your services from this situation? If so, what are they?
3. What message would you like to share with your customers?
Jamie Terry (co-owner)
1. First of all, because Heart Bowls has been open through the pandemic we got to see firsthand how powerful it is to be a point of human connection when almost everything else is unstable and unsure. We felt like a port in the storm. People have been so happy to see us and we do not take that for granted.
Katie and I have observed restaurants where the customer was almost treated like a nuisance — an obstacle between having to be at work and getting to go home. That is a miss. Having a job and having people to serve is a gift. Feeding a person is a privilege.
My two other points of learning have more questions than answers: First, the food industry has a lot of power to change the world for the better — so why don’t we? Second, if a one- or two-month closure can bring restaurants to their knees, and if restaurants employ such a large percentage of our population and could help change the world for the better, why aren’t they better protected? Are restaurant owners taught to build up emergency funds? Are there other ways that we can protect such a precious industry, which provides opportunities for health and happiness? Something needs to be done about this.
2. We started in a food truck because we didn’t have any money. Who knew that that decision would set us up well for a situation like this? We have been fortunate in that nothing about our business model, our service delivery model or our core values had to change. I’m not sure what we would have done if staying open meant manipulating who we are. That would be deeply difficult to navigate.
Thankfully, apart from adding extra, extra cleaning measures and testing out home delivery, we kept on truckin’ and serving healthy food, as usual. One blessing in disguise is that we got the push that we needed to develop our online ordering system. We were heading in that direction anyway, but this challenge actually sped us along that path.
3. Thank you for trusting us. Thank you for choosing to eat nourishing food with us. While there are factors out of your control — and that can be scary — you also have the power to positively impact your health and that helps everyone around you become healthier, too.
We are blessed to live in a beautiful place with fresh air and space to roam. As we move into the fall and winter and flu season returns, your healthy immune system will be more important than ever. Start building that now. Continue on your healthy habits path now.
We love you and want you to not live in fear. Take back your power, eat plants and be well.
Chad and Meggie Foust (owners)
1. Even though other restaurants in town are to be considered competitors, we rode this wave together. We worked closely with several fellow restaurant owners and in the past few months we’ve shared ideas, plans and even to-go boxes when we were in a pinch. It’s a lesson that goes back to elementary school — teams are always stronger when you’re working together.
We definitely became a strong team of independent business owners and I hope we continue sharing tricks of the trade for years to come.
We are one of the cleanest industries you’ll find. We almost had to laugh at the suggested cleaning procedures the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] provided. We have already been doing those things for years.
We have classes we have to take and health permits that mandate a sanitary workplace. All of our employees are trained in processes and procedures to keep guests and employees safe and healthy. We have stepped up our cleaning processes even more — but rest assured that we already had all of the guidelines in place.
It’s necessary to stay ahead of the game as much as possible and continue to be innovative and ready to adapt as quickly as possible. In January, I wouldn’t have imagined all that we have been through taking place. But it’s impossible to stay in the game if you’re just waiting for things to go back to normal. You have to change your business model to be in line with current events — even at a moment’s notice.
2. During Stage 1 [of the reopening plan], take-out was our only option. We really streamlined some processes, including adding parking spots allocated for take-out only and investing in tablets that allow customers to pay from their cars. Take-out will continue to be a larger part of the business than ever before — we are learning as we go and see this as an area of opportunity for growth.
3. Thank you! Thank you for sticking with us, thank you for being patient and thank you for your ongoing support. We are proud to be able to serve our quality meals to our fantastic guests and we are proud to employ some of the best in the industry at both of our locations.
We hope to see everyone soon.
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