COVID-19: The Real Effects on Indie Restaurateurs
Since 2017, the Blind Squirrel has been a neighborhood hot spot in suburban Louisville, Kentucky. A gastropub, the Blind Squirrel features outdoor activities like volleyball, a large indoor and outdoor seating capacity, and live music. With such a vast parcel of land, the Blind Squirrel uses technology like a seating solution, depending on the time of the year. Like many small restaurant businesses, the Blind Squirrel is financial jeopardy and struggling to make it. As part of our series COVID-19: The Real Effects on Indie Restaurateurs, we caught up with general manager Rob Young to learn what steps they have taken to stay afloat in troubled waters.
Tell us about the business. How long have you been in operation?
We opened on August 1, 2017. We look forward to celebrating our 3rd year in business – hopefully out of quarantine!
What makes you love restaurant work?
The people! Every day is different. You get to meet and interact with so many people from all over. No single day is ever the same.
When did you first start to realize that there was a potential problem coming from the coronavirus?
As soon as the media started making a big deal out of “social distancing,” we knew people were going to stop dining in. Little did we know, the turn it would take just a few days later.
Was there any initial indication that you might need to take any special precautions before closures started to hit?
It became immediately clear that we needed to revamp our carry out operations and make them the focus of our business.
Once restaurant closures started in your service area, what did you do? How did you pivot your business?
Very early on we saw the need to modify our existing menu to focus more on family specials. People were looking for deals to feed the entire family. The emphasis on individual entrees then shifted to family-style portioned meals.
If you’re offering off-premise options, have you been able to use technology to help sort through any of your dilemmas?
We currently do not have any off-premise options.
Is the Blind Squirrel offering carry-out options, or is the operation closed for the time being altogether?
We are currently closed doing some kitchen upgrades. We have put off replacing our kitchen floor and doing some minor kitchen upgrades because we did not want to close down for several weeks to do so. This seemed to be the perfect time to do it. We plan to reopen for carryout once everything is done.
Have you had to let the staff go? That’s got to be a hard challenge to face.
That is the worst part of all of this. We employ roughly 130 people. We had to make the tough decision to lay off those employees as the business simply could not support carrying those salaries. Luckily, with the stimulus check and the employment limits being raised – coupled with the Federal government adding $600 per week to each check, our staff is being very well taken care of right now!
If so, are there plans to bring them back when we can get through this?
100% YES! We are remaining in constant contact with our staff and keeping them as up-to-date as we can as things change. Also, just checking in with them to see if they need anything. We want them to know that we are all in this together and that we will reopen, and everyone will be back to work as soon as we are legally allowed to operate again.
What do you hope that the public knows about restaurants struggling with closures? How can the community show support?
I would love for people to understand that right now is the make it or break time for a lot of local restaurants. The support from the public will, for many restaurants, be the difference between staying open or closing forever. Especially independently owned restaurants like us that do not have a corporate checkbook.
If you’re still interested, read our stories about displaced restaurant staff and supply chain workers. Do you have a story that you’d like to share? Do you know a story ideal for our COVID-19: Real Effects on Indie Restaurateurs series or know any operator who is working hard right now to keep the lights on? We want to know. Let us know in the comments. And if you have a good tip on any restaurants with novel solutions, let us know that too! We love to hear how our community works together for a better tomorrow.
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About the Author
Syd was a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot. He’s at home like the rest of the world right now but finding time to play with the kids and create art.