Ernesto Martinez had barely opened his new Ernesto’s Mexican Bar & Grill in Wesleyan Park Plaza in March when the state ordered restaurants to close their dining rooms to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
He’s been doing drive-through since then.
But it’s been a struggle.
“I almost shut it down,” Martinez said. “I owe a lot of money and I was worried about paying the rent. But David Hocker Inc. said, ‘Don’t worry. We want you to stay there.’ They helped me, but I still owe the rent. I hope God blesses me this weekend and people come out so I can pay it next week. Then I can breathe better.”
Ernesto’s opens Friday, May 22, like many other restaurants across Kentucky.
Dining rooms are now limited to 33% capacity by the state.
“I’m requiring reservations,” Martinez said. “I can get 20 to 25 people inside the restaurant and probably 30 on the patio. I hope people follow the rules or I could get shut down. I want everybody to be safe.”
Josh Whitely said he’s reopening IDK, a buffet restaurant in front of the Walmart on Kentucky 54, on Friday, May 22.
The state isn’t allowing people to go through buffets and put food on their plates yet.
But Whitely said, “We’re doing a new style of buffet. We’re calling ‘buffet at your table.’ It’s still all you can eat. But you tell us what you want and we’ll bring you a huge portion of meat and vegetables. I think it’s going to be really good. I’m excited about the change.”
He said he’ll be able to seat 50 at a time.
“It’ll be good to reopen,” Whitely said. “The restaurant has been closed the whole time.”
Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn, home of another big buffet, is waiting until June 1 to reopen.
“Opening on a holiday weekend is a bad idea, I think,” Patrick Bosley said. “I don’t want to open with a tidal wave. I want to open softly.”
He said, “We’ll have menu service only when we open. We won’t have the buffet at this time. We plan on it later with cafeteria-style serving. We’ll have all our vegetables and desserts on the menu.”
Moonlite will be able to seat 116 people at 33% of capacity.
Bosley said curbside pickup and carryout were slow in the first three weeks the dining room was closed.
People getting more comfortable“But then people got more comfortable about going out and picking up food,” he said. “We’re breaking even now.”
Bosley said, “We had all this food in the walk-in when we heard on the news that we had to close at 5 p.m. That had to be paid for and there was no time to plan.”
He said, “Restaurants operate on a very slim margin. The challenge is not over. Restaurants may reopen to negative sales. We’ll lose some more restaurants in this town before it’s over.”
Getting enough supplies is a problem, Bosley said. “I ordered 18 cases of Boston butt and got two cases.”
He said, “We haven’t had a negative year in the more than 57 years my family has owned the restaurant. But we’ve had some lean years. We’re not sure what this year will be yet. But we’re going to stay here.”
Bosley said, “A lot of restaurants will have to raise prices. We’re going to try to keep ours the same.”
He said, “We have great employees and great customers. We haven’t had any trouble or any ugliness with our carryout. That’s great about Owensboro.”
The MacQuarrie family owns two downtown restaurants — Colby’s Fine Food & Spirits and Colby’s Deli & Cafe.
“We’ve decided to wait until Tuesday to open,” Collin MacQuarrie said. “It’s better to start at the beginning of the week than the end of the week.”
He said, “Seating will be limited to 84 in the restaurant and 25 in the deli. But the deli’s back patio is fully open and there are no restrictions there except for the tables being six feet apart. The restaurant will add tables along St. Ann Street and the patio.”
When the state ordered dining rooms to close, MacQuarrie said, “We had to adapt quickly. Both restaurants have been doing take-out, curbside and delivery. Neither had to close. Business decreased by about half, but so did expenses.”
He said, “We’re looking forward to seeing customers in the dining room again. Being inside the restaurant is half the experience of dining out.”
George Skiadas said on Facebook that his Famous Bistro, a popular downtown restaurant, is reopening for curbside service on Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The post said, “Full service dining is yet to be determined. We hope by late June, and with some good fortune, maybe sooner. We can’t wait to get back doing what we do best.”
Keith Lawrence 270-691-7301, email@example.com