Ames restaurant owners and employees have taken a financial blow during the COVID-19 pandemic, though some have said they see it as an opportunity.
On March 17, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered all bars and restaurants to sell carry-out and drive-thru only.
Reynolds signed a proclamation ordering all theaters, gyms, casinos, senior centers and adult day care facilities to close while limiting bars and restaurants to serve strictly through carry-out and drive-thru. The measures will remain in place until 11:59 p.m. March 31.
Lockwood Cafe, locally owned by Sharon Stewart, closed March 17 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“The employees is what made the decision extremely hard as to when to close and for how long to stay closed, have a staff of seven people, and they are like family to us,” Stewart said. “The idea of not being able to provide them income is very difficult, there is the option for them to apply for unemployment and we've encouraged all of them to do that. We're still trying to figure out the details of how to create more revenue for them.”
The closure was originally supposed to last from March 17 through March 22, but it was extended for another week in order to take additional steps to self-quarantine.
“One of the things that we've said many times over is limitations breed creativity,” Stewart said. “And there are definitely new limitations in place but it's forcing us to think creatively of how to be a community member, both as individuals and as a collective.”
Stewart said another option Lockwood Cafe is looking at is to buy meals for strangers and different individuals in the health care system.
Some restaurants have closed without providing a carry-out or drive-thru service, Jethro’s BBQ Steak n’ Chop in the Ames location will be closed until Iowa State resumes classes in the fall.
Owner of Jethro’s, Bruce Gerleman, spoke with Simon Conway on March 17 on a podcast.
“All are faced with a really sad day because the hospitality industry—right or wrong—they don't, they're not savers, they don't save money, the way they should probably,” Gerleman said on the podcast. “So many of these people live paycheck to paycheck, and they might have a little bit of a savings account but this is going to affect them dramatically, very quickly, and it's going to affect the economy dramatically, very quickly.”
Gerleman said the business started with 800 employees, started the process to hire 100 more, and the restaurant will survive through this period of time.
“It was kind of the straw that broke the camel's back that Bruce went on and said ‘We're not savers, we don't save like we should,’” said Sarah Adam, a former server at Jethro’s BBQ Steak n’ Chop and Iowa State alumna. “I have been saving for months to move across the country and now we can't because I have to use that money to pay my bills now for the rest of the summer.”
Taika Dennill, who also worked at Jethro’s, said there was a lack of communication between employees and four of the staff members were informed of the closure.
“I don't want to work for Jethro’s anymore,” Dennill said. “Even with the opportunity to go work at other [Jethro’s] locations, I don't want to. Seeing how they handled the situation shows how they care for their employees, which they don't. So this isn't someplace that I feel proud to work at anymore.”
As the restaurants in Ames are closing, changing and adapting to the new proclamation, many community members have voiced their support.
“It's not about having all the toilet paper in the town, but just transparency, honesty and love — arm yourself with your heart, and our community will come through stronger,” Stewart said.