When North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper decreed Tuesday morning (March 17, 2020) that bars and restaurants statewide close for dine-in or in-house service in response to the rapidly spreading coronavirus (COVID-19) it was probably no major shock. Other governors took similar action after a weekend pre-St. Patrick’s Day spree of jammed bars in major cities like Chicago, New York and Nashville. It was a scary display of poor judgment during a pandemic.
But I was glad to see that downtown food and drink operations in Burlington are ahead of the curve. Several had already announced plans to offer takeout service only and did so on Monday. with highly visible social media posts on Facebook and Instagram. Tracy Schmidt, who has emerged as a leader downtown since arriving there as general manager of Burlington Beer Works a year ago, has been visible in this effort as well.
But she’s not alone. In fact, downtown’s longest operating business, Zack’s Hot Dogs on the corner of Davis and Worth Streets, made a post on its Facebook wall Sunday night alerting folks that it would be closed on Monday so owner Zack Touloupas and staff could assemble a plan for moving forward and keeping its hundreds of daily customers safe.
Monday night the site posted word that Zack’s would be take-out only going forward. It will not reopen until at least March 22. It’s a wise move for a business that has operated since 1927 and is arguably Burlington’s most popular eatery. It’s packed with customers for a solid 12 hours a day, six days a week. The Facebook posts are revealing. The first one on March 15 was shared 101 times and the update Monday shared 87 times.
Schmidt at Burlington Beer Works was by far the most visible. Her first plan was to have spaced tables inside for lunch and dinner service with curbside takeout. Cooper’s announcement on Tuesday shut down dine-in service. The Beer Works offered lunch inside Tuesday and at 5 will be strictly takeout and delivery going forward. Customers may still call in their order (see graphic above). Menus can be found here.
And this just in, the Beer Works is allowed by law to deliver beer and will do so with a minimum $30 order and within an eight-mile radius — the same as the food delivery area. And update, the Beer Works now has a canner so it can sell cans of its brews as well as the aluminum “crowlers” it is offering during this time. This is a great addition short and long term.
In making the original announcement to owners of the Beer Works co-op, Schmidt said, “We’re just beginning to understand the public health impact of COVID-19, and it’s difficult to gauge how restaurants will be impacted over the coming months. What we do know is that the outbreak of COVID-19 and the effects of the public’s response will impact all businesses, including the hard-working owners, operators, farmers, delivery drivers, staff, and just about everyone in the food business.”
She’s absolutely right. As communities nationwide work to “flatten the curve” and slow down the spread of this novel virus that has closed schools on every level, strained health services and sent financial markets into a tailspin, food and drink businesses will be among those severely impacted. That means millions of workers in that industry will also be hit. Business owners will need to think creatively as they keep the health of their employees, themselves and their customers as a high priority. Customers should be creative, too. I like the idea posed that regular customer of a restaurant buy gift cards for use later to offset losses restaurants are feeling now.
The Blend and Co. along with Burlington Nutrition, Valerios and Smitty’s Homemade are also taking steps to serve customers as safely as possible. The Blend, on Front Street near Burlington Beer Works, is offering walk-in service with no seating inside. Here is the full text of its Facebook post.
UPDATE: Doing what we can to be socially responsible but still get you your daily fix.
In effect Tuesday March 17th
1. Our hours are adjusted to 7am-5pm
2. Walk-in only. We HATE asking that you to not hangout! But we are extremely grateful for your participation.
3. We are working with @cloosiv to get a preordering system live, stay tuned. Download the app!
4. Our restroom will not be in service.
5. Our team is taking EXTRA care to serve you guys the best we can. We will be taking team shifts 7 days on & 7 days off to ensure the wellness of our team and you guys!
A billion 🙏🏻 for your support. ✨
Burlington Nutrition, on Davis Street not far from Zack’s, is offering takeout, is offering curbside service for its brand of shakes and teas. Both made the announcements on social media with neat graphics. Here’s the text in Burlington Nutrition’s post.
Hey friends! We are here and able to serve up nutritious shakes and energy teas to fuel you through your day. Operating under normal business hours and offering call in & text ordering for to go orders! Call or text 336-513-0111.
Smitty’s is selling ice cream and other sweets curbside from its Front Street location beside the Beer Works.
And Valerios, also on Front Street beside the Paramount Theater, will offer curbside takeout for its pizza, sandwiches and Italian favorites. It will deliver in areas around the block.
Going forward, it will take these kinds of creative actions and sacrifices throughout our community to get through the COVID-19 outbreak as successfully as we can. Many businesses will be staggered. Health systems will likely be overwhelmed and schools may be shut down for a few weeks or even months. At this point I’m uncertain if we’ll see Elon University students back on campus anytime soon. Speaking of Elon, downtown businesses there are taking action, too. I know The Oak House has as well as Tangent and Pandora’s Pies. The latter is offering delivery and curbside pickup. Smitty’s in Elon is also offering curbside takeout. An order from Smitty’s can accompany a delivery order from Pandora’s Pies.
Good and clear thinking is essential now. I’m glad to see that locally owned businesses downtown are being the leaders our community needs.