Local restaurants will pause indoor dining, but step up delivery and pickup services
Bay City restaurants are trying various tactics to cope with the latest indoor dining restrictions. Traditional takeaway, roadside pickup, delivery and closings are on the menu as restaurants enter high season.
During the summer months, many restaurants opened terrace seating and al fresco dining to serve customers in a socially distant atmosphere. But Michigan’s cold season only allows this for a short time. Then, on November 15, as the restaurants adjusted to limited indoor seating, the state issued an emergency order requiring a three-week break. The break affects companies, schools and households. For restaurants, the break does not mean eating indoors.
Brooklyn Boyz employee Sarah Miller wears a mask while packing an order for delivery.Greg Kimbrue, owner of VNO Wine Warehouse & New Age Restaurant, 512 E. Midland St., says the timing of the closure is unfortunate as it is roughly mid-November through the end of the year is the busiest season for a restaurant.
Last year at the time, Kimbrue said VNO had booked 2,200 seats for the first two weeks of December, and although he has already reserved a few parties for the holiday season, he is taking it day at a time hoping for the best but planning a quiet December .
Greg Kimbrue, who owns VNOs, said he was hoping restaurants wouldn’t have to be near indoor dining again.“At Christmas parties, we, every restaurant owner, want to protect the best and the customers, because without customers there is no business.” He says he is trying to remain optimistic about being able to reopen on December 8th when the three-week breaks are to end .
VNO Wine Warehouse didn’t offer takeaway during the first shutdown last spring, but Kimbrue says it will this time. “When we closed this restaurant in March, we decided not to open it for take-out because we mostly have families who work here,” says Kimbrue. This time, although the restaurant and wine shop continue to offer the same limited menu that has been around since early June.
The restaurants in the area are switching to takeaway menus and changing their opening hours to meet the latest COVID-19 restrictions.He says, although the last executive order was not unexpected, “When we reopened on June 10th, we were hoping we would never have to do this again.”
Kimbrue adds that customers will still be able to shop for wine. Since the success of COVID-19, US wine sales have increased, says Kimbrue, adding, “We’re more of a wine store and now more than ever.”
Local restaurants encourage customers to order take-away meals indoors during the break.Across Midland Street, Kevin Novellino, owner of Brooklyn Boyz Pizza, says he learned a few things from the previous shutdown. He also says he was the current shutdown and was already making plans.
During the earlier shutdown, Brooklyn Boyz, 507 E. Midland St., offered a limited takeaway menu and third party delivery such as GrubHub and UberEats. He plans to continue this for the time being, but will also add his own delivery service.
Roadside pickup and delivery services are available to minimize contact as COVID-19 rises across the state.“We also added an in-house delivery service because third party delivery can’t keep up with the volume,” he says. “It’s all about the customer,” and making sure they get the food quickly and easily is going to make all the difference for Brooklyn Boyz for the next several weeks.
Novellino says they also offer a roadside pickup option that allows guests to pull up in front of the building with identifiable markings. The drivers call the restaurant, tell them they are in line, and the food is brought to the vehicle. The option is still available to pick up orders inside, but he wants to make the pickup as convenient as possible.
Customers can come to VNOs to buy wine. Brooklyn Boyz also opted for a new online ordering system that allows guests to order and pay for their food without leaving their home. Orders can be placed through the website. “Then you can call when you get out the door and line up for the pick-up on the side of the road,” says Novellino. The ordering system should make it easier for employees and guests alike.
Greg Kimbrue, owner of VNOs, encourages people to continue supporting local businesses during the three-week break.One of the biggest changes Novellino is planning is to reduce working hours. He says they’ve been doing a past sales audit over the past few months. “We found that 95% of our business is between 4pm and 7pm,” he says. Therefore it makes sense to reduce hours and menu items. Instead of opening at 11 a.m., the restaurant is open at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and stays open later in the evening on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s trickling down and hurting us all … Everything will work out and hopefully everything will be open and normal again soon.”
– Vince Stuart, owner of Vinnie’s Stockpot and Uptown Grille
Novellino says it is also restricting menu options. “Some things just don’t deliver well,” he says, and the items that are best served in the house may not be available for the time being.
But whether it’s take-out and delivery, or the restaurant is reopening for indoor meals, Novellino plans to keep serving the favorites made from scratch, “because that’s how I love cooking.”
VNOs’ Greg Kimbrue says wine sales have increased since the arrival of COVID-19.Some restaurants will be temporarily closed during this final wave of the pandemic. Vince Stuart, owner of Vinnie’s Stockpot, 1007 Washington Ave., and Uptown Grille, 3 E. Main St., says the stockpot will be closed for a minimum of three weeks with limited downtown business. He says it’s disappointing because it gets people who are laid off in trouble.
“It’s unhappy,” he says, “it trickles down and hurts us all.”
Even before the pandemic, VNOs were storing a large selection of wines. While he is offering take-out at the Uptown Grille, he has to lay off up to 20 employees from the two restaurants.
He is concerned about his customers, but also about his employees, who will come into the upcoming Christmas season with smaller paychecks. “Everything will work out and hopefully everything will be open and normal again soon,” he says optimistically.
For many restaurants, November and December are the busiest months of the year.Stuart says Uptown Grille will be open for take out for the next three weeks, but will have limited hours. He says that during main breakfast and lunchtime, guests can order in advance to be picked up. Diners can order online through the website.
Each of the owners looks forward to the day when they can invite their guests again.
“We made it this far and we’re not going anywhere,” says Greg Kimbrue, who owns VNOs.“We made it this far and we’re not going anywhere,” says Kimbrue, and by us he means all local restaurant owners. “There is only one more bump in the road to overcome. This is probably the best point of view.”
Overall, Kimbrue says he sees this as a half-full situation and encourages people to keep supporting local diners.
Greg Kimbrue wears a mask while posting notes explaining what to expect from the wines on his shelves.“We’re all there together, lots of good, hardworking families and people who are there every day, and they won’t let that go out of business. Hopefully we will all get stronger than ever in the near future. “