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Local restaurants strive to keep their footing during coronavirus shutdowns

SNOHOMISH COUNTY — Restaurants, like many businesses, have had to suddenly adjust on-the-fly in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Sales were already down at many establishments even before Gov. Jay Inslee signed an emergency proclamation on March 16 that temporarily shut down restaurants, bars, entertainment and recreational facilities statewide. The ban allows establishments to offer take-out and delivery services only. 
In an industry that typically operates on profit margins of under 5 percent, owners and operators have faced a tough decision to either stay open and operate under the current restrictions or shut down in the meantime until they are allowed to resume full dining service.
Tina Woodrick manages Bella Balducci’s Mediterranean Cuisine in the Safeway plaza in Monroe. She said that prior to the outbreak, take-out orders, especially for gyros and Greek fries, were popular and made up a significant portion of the restaurant’s sales. They now have a system in place for
contactless pick-up of orders. Delivery was already available through several different online platforms and while those sales have seen an increase as people stay home, business is still down significantly. “Our numbers have dropped way low, we’re probably down about 80 percent,” Woodrick said. 
In addition to having to cut down on staffing and hours, one of the toughest adjustments has been not interacting with regular guests while taking care of them in the dining room. “The community is very close; it makes it hard when your customers you see every week and all of the sudden you just can’t see each other and have that communication,” she said.
Despite reductions in service and sales, Woodrick still enjoys being able to help others. “We’re just doing what we can to keep people smiling, keep good food in their bellies and help take care of our community,” she said.
All restaurants are having to pivot, and those that didn’t already offer deliveries or rely on a high volume of takeout orders face a new challenge. Collector’s Choice Restaurant, on Cypress Avenue in Snohomish, is a large, high-volume establishment that relies on serving a big menu consisting of many entrees such as steaks or cuts of meat that are traditionally associated more with dine-in service. 
Owner Barry Galen said prior to the governor’s directive, business was down a little bit, but since then the restaurant has seen close to 90 percent of its sales drop off. As a result, he has had to reduce the hours of operation and also suspend most of his staff of over 50 people down to just a basic core of six to eight employees who are now rotating shifts,  he said.
Food for pickup was previously available, but the restaurant created a new online system for placing orders and they have also started offering delivery service within a five-to-seven-mile radius of their location. Galen said he “had to switch gears in a minute” and made the decision not to partner with any delivery apps and instead develop the new service on his own. “I’m trying to give my employees as many hours and contribute as much as I can in that way,” he said. 
The restaurant has begun offering family meals sized to serve between two and six people. Galen also equipped his van, that is now being used for deliveries, with “hot boxes and ice chests,” he said.  
Andy Gibbs, the owner of Andy’s Fish House on First Street in Snohomish, said even though this is a tough time full of uncertainty for many businesses, he has been impressed by the local response. “I’m pretty thankful for the community that we live in, it’s a small community and we see a lot of regulars coming in trying to show support,” he said. 
Several of the restaurants and bakeries in town have even been helping each other by ordering groups of staff meals or desserts from one another, Gibbs said. 
Even though he has had trouble getting fresh shellfish lately, they have been able to sell enough fish and chips or chowder to keep the doors open, he said. He feels fortunate that his restaurant has always been popular for takeout orders and doesn’t rely almost exclusively on dining room service. 
“You’ve got to be optimistic and we just keep on keeping on,” he said. “It’s kind of day-by-day. Hopefully, it does end in a couple of weeks, but you never know, it could be longer, so we’ll just keep on selling to-go’s.” 


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