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Restaurants struggle to stay alive on to-go orders

Hannah Flanagan's owner Matt Johnes says he is trying to keep his employees despite the closing of sit-down dining. Hannah Flanagan's owner Matt Johnes says he is trying to keep his employees despite the closing of sit-down dining.

The Sweet Frog frozen yogurt shop on Main Street would usually attract a sizable crowd on a warm day like Wednesday. Instead, by mid-afternoon, only three customers had showed up.


Sweet Frog owner Cherish Cyr has taken extra safety precautions, such as limiting the shared touching of surfaces by keeping spoons out of reach of customers, sanitizing equipment much more than usual and offering to prepare the yogurt entirely herself.
The big uptick in sales usually comes with daylight savings time, but this year revenue has plunged. Cyr wonders if “the loss of as much revenue as we are losing is worth paying the bills to keep the lights on and the refrigerators running.” On a warm day like Tuesday, she would expect to bring in more than $700. Instead the total was less than $100.
Employing mostly high school students, Cyr has no plans to lay off staff. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep the doors open.
Downtown Hendersonville, usually busy, with parking spaces full and shoppers and diners strolling the sidewalks, feels like a ghost town. Restaurant and shop owners say they have never seen anything like this, and many are relying on the community to unite and provide support. Restaurants are keeping an owner/ manager on the floor accompanied by only one other employee. They remain hopeful that customers will continue to dine at the outdoor designated tables while also taking advantage of placing to-go orders. Restaurants including Mike’s On Main, Sweet Frog and Three Chopt are also offering curbside pickup in order to limit contact.

Patty Adamic, owner of Mike’s On Main, mostly worries about her staff. On Wednesday, only three people were working — herself, her business partner/cook Aubrey Hollar, and one employee. On a regular day, 11 workers or more would be on the floor at a time. Adamic had to make the difficult call to temporarily lay off most of her staff because of the inability to cover their wages. Breaking into tears while discussing the fate of her faithful staff of 26, Adamic remained thankful for the newly revised unemployment rules, which will pay benefits to those who are out of a job instead of forcing them to search for another. She is expecting to lose tens of thousands of dollars in revenue without an open dining room. Customers are not used to ordering to-go from a place like Mike’s On Main. With its old-fashioned soda fountain and throwback décor, the restaurant feel is as important as the food. Adamic remains hopeful and plans to keep her doors open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. while offering patio seating, to-go orders and curbside pickups.

Matt Johnes, owner of Hannah Flanagan’s, was hit hard because the first day of the dine-in ban fell on St. Patrick’s Day, a huge day for an Irish pub. St. Paddy’s Day typically brings in hundreds of customers celebrating the holiday. Johnes and his staff had fully prepared for a busy day of serving and working the bustling bar. Instead, he had just six hours to quickly get the doors closed. “We lost at least a third of the business we typically would have on any other St. Patrick’s Day,” he said. He has no plans for now to lay off his staff members. He values employee loyalty and is making it his main priority to keep them on staff. Hannah Flanagan’s plans to remain open throughout the outbreak unless the situation substantially deteriorates. Other restaurants in town have decided to close doors entirely until the circumstances improve.
“Thank you Hendersonville for a great first year!” Shine said. “In consideration of our guests and staff, we are temporarily closing. We hope this doesn’t last long …”

Some other shops are doing fine. Kathy Cole, co-owner of McFarlan Bakery, is working to keep people encouraged through social media. With a shortage of bread in local grocery stores, the bakery has provided an additional place to make these vital purchases. Customers are appreciative of the comfort food that McFarlan supplies.
Alex Stewart, owner of Merch On Main boutique, is encouraging her online shoppers to continue shopping while offering curbside pickup for items in stock.

Downtown Economic Development Director Lew Holloway urged diners and shoppers to visit Lovehendo.com, a website that went live Thursday, to buy gift cards and support local businesses.

“There is a lot of uncertainty for small business owners right now, especially in light of the recent restrictions for dining establishments,” he said. “We know this is scary for small businesses, and we hope this effort brings awareness to that fact and make things just a little bit better for our business community. Daily and weekly cash flow for small businesses is a big part of keeping the doors open and with some being forced to close those doors and all being impacted, gift cards can play a huge role in maintaining cash flow and helping our small business community get through."

Despite the financial pit that many small business owners are in, they are finding unity in the fact that fellow businesses are feeling the same way.
“I think that right now we are all just doing the best we can,” Adamic said. “We need to come together and realize we are all in the same position right now. No matter how powerful we may be, we’re all the same right now.”
Customers are working hard to support their favorite businesses. Mike and his daughter, Annabelle, have been to Sweet Frog three times already this week in an attempt to promote business while putting a smile on Cherish Cyr’s face despite such tough times. Cole, at McFarlan’s, says that many loyal Hendersonville residents are buying gift certificates from restaurants for use when they reopen. Three Chopt owner Matthew Rogers is providing freshly made meals for children who are out of school at this time and therefore out of two primary meals. He also hopes to have the ability to use the parking lot beside his establishment for extra outdoor dining space. “All I can do is control my own attitude,” he said. “I would not want to be dealing with this anywhere other than the town of Hendersonville, N.C.”