LIMA — Pete Williams and his wife, Bridgett, didn’t want to stay idle. So, when the couple temporarily closed the Old Barn Out Back in March 2020, they gathered their children and spent the next several months renovating the family restaurant into a rustic steakhouse and burger joint.
As Williams tells it, the pandemic created the first opportunity the couple had to enact their vision for the restaurant — to bring it out of 1988 and into 2021.
They painted the barn’s exterior black and redesigned the interior with rustic chic decor. They created a brand-new menu — featuring trendy items like deep-fried deviled eggs, raspberry cream cheese jalapeno burgers and fried pickles — and introduced a bar for the first time. They even cleared out the back lawn to install an outdoor patio.
“That makeover would not have happened without last year’s shutdown,” Williams said.
Behind the pandemic’s brutal toll on the restaurant industry is another story of innovation and resilience, as restaurants old and new launched food delivery services and online ordering platforms, built walk-up windows and outdoor dining patios and explored any avenues available to stay open amid a pandemic.
The Paycheck Protection Program, which extended forgivable loans to small businesses in an effort to prevent mass closures and permanent layoffs, became a lifeline for struggling restaurants that were shut down for months and subjected to new capacity restrictions, curfews and sanitation guidelines.
The program was a lifeline for Williams as well, who was losing thousands of dollars in catering revenue and whose popular buffet was among the casualties of 2020. But the buffet and catering business will eventually come back, as will the customers who yearn for a sense of normalcy after such a disruptive year.
“People want to go out,” Williams said.
When Jack Hilvers moved (the) Grind Coffeehouse from Delphos to Lima last January, he didn’t expect that the coffee shop would be closed for months on end or that customers would eventually be required to wear masks when they walked through the doors.
“At the time, I thought that maybe it would be a few weeks,” he said. “And then a few weeks turned into a few months. And one year later, here we are.”
Hilvers is now considering joining DoorDash to take part in the food delivery craze, a trend which is expected to outlast the pandemic.
And amid the uncertainty of the restaurant industry in 2020, there were entrepreneurs like Nate Geise who saw opportunities for in-and-out restaurants and drink shops designed with a pandemic in mind.
Geise and his wife, Elyse, along with their business partner Natalia Ortiz opened a Sblended Nutrition smoothie bar in Lima in February.
Geise didn’t want the pandemic to hold back his business, even though new health department protocols meant he had to focus even more on cleanliness and carryout than he would have before. And Geise recognized that people still wanted something to do; that people were not willing to put their entire lives on hold. So, Geise took a risk and opened the smoothie bar on Cable Road, selling meal-replacement shakes and other drinks out of what was once an old Blockbuster Video store.
“It’s scary, but to me any business that can jump over the hurdles and take care of the protocols; that people feel comfortable and it’s sanitary will be able to work during this time,” Geise said.
Reach Mackenzi Klemann at firstname.lastname@example.org.