True Grit Café General Manager Richard “Juice” Pinney is in the background, filming a video about making gumbo, as restaurant owner Tammee Tuttle explains how she and her staff have been keeping busy. They are adapting operations and marketing so they can continue doing business under the government restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Pinney weathered two major hurricanes when he was a general manager and co-owner of a restaurant in New Orleans. Finding ways to stay financially afloat through a disaster is not new to him, and besides, it’s not in his nature to moan about such challenges, he said.
Since March 17, when the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment order prohibiting on-site dining at restaurants went into effect, local businesses have been responding with concern and creativity. Customers responded mostly by staying away, but also with a few displays of unexpected generosity. Meanwhile, networks of individuals and organizations have offered support by promoting businesses through social media and new web pages.
“It’s definitely going to be a financial challenge for not just the business owners but the employees,” Tuttle said. “We are trying to stay up to date to make sure our employees are taken care of. My heart is with the community and employees.”
Starting by increasing the restaurant’s cleaning and sterilizing to keep employees and customers safe from the virus, True Grit also reached out to other restaurants to coordinate business hours to handle the decreased demand. Consequently, Tuttle decided to close on Thursdays instead of Tuesdays, since more restaurants were closed on Tuesdays and open on Thursdays.
Similar to most restaurants in Ridgway and Ouray, True Grit reduced staffing and hours, and is offering take-out meals. In addition to its full menu, the restaurant is selling new family friendly, ready-to-heat-and-eat meal options, as well as grocery items like breads, cheese and soups. Plus, it is offering delivery in a limited area for orders of $35 and above. Not many other food establishments are offering delivery, in some cases because they are not insured for it.
The Artisan Bakery in Ouray is not set up for delivery as of Tuesday, but the owners — Erin, Trevor and Catcher Latta — said in an email that they could probably accommodate delivery within city limits if requested.
“As of right now we intend to be open for the foreseeable future (with regular business hours). We are doing take-out, people are welcome to call or come to the door to order,” the owners explained. “We are currently receiving our supplies on time and in completion. The biggest impact to the business is obviously financial, but we are taking this opportunity to get lots of prep done that can be frozen and used in the future.”
The Artisan is supplying bread to Duckett’s Market and lunches for Ouray students every weekday through April 17, the current end of the school closure.
“At that point, we will reevaluate the needs of the community and our ability to continue offering. We have had some wonderful support from private individuals, the Ouray school, Ouray Public Library and Telluride Foundation.”
Provisions Café in Ridgway has reduced its brunch and dinner hours, since its sales decreased by 73 percent after the restrictions began. Suppliers are working with the restaurant to combine orders with other restaurants to meet minimum order requirements.
“I’ve encouraged my 10 employees to file for unemployment. I have also found some potential grants for people in the service industry,” owner Amie Minnick said. “So far, I’ve found no help for myself. As a sole proprietor/LLC, I am unable to file for unemployment so I'm left to fend for myself at this point. It's incredibly stressful and a bit daunting being a single mother with a massive amount of overhead hanging over my head.”
She admits that is oddly consoling to know that “an unfathomable amount of people” are in similar predicaments. She has been cheered up by kind acts like “a lovely local couple” who bought a gift card for $1,000, and a resident of New York City who bought a gift card and left it for the restaurant to donate to someone in need.
“We've also had some very generous tippers in the last week. I have one employee who is not clocking in and working for tips only, bless her heart.” she added.
Similar stories of charitable customers and employees are being told by other restaurant owners as well. A disaster-inspired spirit of collaboration is spreading around the community.
Web pages with updates about local businesses and resources have been created by the Ouray City Council, Ridgway Area Chamber of Commerce, and the sister organizations of the Sherbino Theater and Weehawken Creative Arts, among others. The Sherbino and Weehawken created ouraycountyresources.com as a clearinghouse of various resources for businesses, families and individuals.
After the public health order was amended to allow restaurants to sell alcohol for take-out, the two organizations also spearheaded the new Ouray County Speakeasy Virtual Happy Hours. The plan is to coordinate happy hours Thursday through Saturday at different businesses, where bartenders will create specialty cocktail to-go kits to be purchased in the afternoon and taken home. Then, the bartenders will join customers in a Zoom meeting space to teach about how to mix the cocktails and “catch up over a drink.” The prices of cocktail kits are set by each business, joining the happy hour is optional and free with each purchase, and customers are invited to tip bartenders via payment apps. Today (Thursday) the first happy hour will be hosted by Provisions Café, which will be offering a Lavender Lifty martini.
“We are just brainstorming ways to keep people connected and businesses open,” said Trisha Oakland, programs director for Weehawken and the Sherbino. “Part of the Sherbino mission is community, and that will be our current focus. And both organizations feel that we have received lots of support from local businesses over the years and now is our turn to help support them in any way we can.”