Eau Claire eats

Local restaurants adapt to COVID-19 safety measures

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Photo by Jenna Erickson

As the spread of COVID-19 continues, restaurants are scaling back their services in an attempt to “flatten the curve” and slow the outbreak.

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Many industries have been affected by COVID-19 on a global scale — one of which is the restaurant industry, according to an article on Eater, a website dedicated to providing viewers with the latest news from the food world every day.

As COVID-19 spreads to cities across the nation, restaurants are scaling back their services — or shutting their doors altogether — in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. 

On Tuesday, March 17, by executive order of Gov. Tony Evers, Wisconsin restaurants and bars closed, excluding takeout. 

Williams Ruiz Santos, the general manager of Burrito Xpress, said he is running the restaurant almost entirely by himself, working overtime and trying to make as much profit as he can to keep up business. 

“I used to have four people in the kitchen, but now I run the kitchen with only one person,” Ruiz Santos said. “Most of our employees have filed for unemployment because we can’t employ them. It has been really hard because everyone wants to work, but I can’t afford to pay them right now.”

Burrito Xpress has shifted to a curb-side pickup and a take-out system, and many customers are using the app on their phones to order food, Ruiz Santos said.

Lois Sieve, the owner of the Acoustic Café, also said her business has been struggling. Sales plummeted around 80 percent in the past few weeks.

After she heard about Ever’s order of the closure of restaurants, with an exception for take-out, Sieve said her employment team came up with a plan and implemented it days later.

“I called the city of Eau Claire to see if I could get three parking stalls along Gray Street for curb-side delivery,” Sieve said. “They granted that to me right away and also provided some signs for me.”

Sieve has been regularly updating the Acoustic Cafe Facebook page, providing step by step instructions on how to order food during this trying time, she said.

According to Acoustic Café’s Facebook post, customers can call the cafe at (715) 832-9090 to place their order. 

The cafe only accepts Visa/MC/Discover and tips. Customers then call the number when they arrive at the curb outside the restaurant, so then employees can run the order out.

In her Facebook post, Sieve also mentioned that, during this time, the cafe will not bake muffins and scones daily. Instead, if customers call in a day ahead and order six or more, employees can bake them.

“We are willing to accommodate as much as possible,” Sieve said.

In addition to the new curbside pickup system, the Acoustic Café changed their hours to 7:40 a.m to 4 p.m during the week, Sieve said, and 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m on the weekends. 

But, these hours are still fluid based on the customers needs, she said.

Employees are also greatly affected by this pandemic. Many of the cafe employees are filing for unemployment, Sieve said. 

“Every employee has to make their own decision. We have about 25 and that’s whittled down to around 10 right now,” Sieve said. 

In light of the lack of hours, the cafe is offering free food to all employees to help them during this tough time, Sieve said. 

“They just have to call in and we deliver it like we do for everyone else,” Sieve said. “We were concerned they wouldn’t have the funds to buy groceries so that’s something we are doing for them.”

Sieve said she is waiting for the allocation of funds from the stimulus package, which President Donald Trump signed on March 27. It could benefit her employees and overall business, helping them feel more stable and get back on their feet, she said.

According to an article on the New York Times’ website, the $2 trillion stimulus package, passed by Congress on March 25, includes more than $370 billion for small businesses. 

The bill will allow banks to lend directly to businesses, with those loans being backed by the Small Business Administration.

It could take at least two weeks after the bill is signed for the money to start flowing, according to the Times

In the meantime, the Acoustic Café will continue curb-side pickup orders and waiting, Sieve said. 

“We know we are going to get through this,” Sieve said. “We’ve been in business for over 25 years and we are committed to the community of Eau Claire, and we greatly appreciate all of the support we have had throughout this crisis.”

For a list of establishments that are offering take-out and curbside pick-up in the Chippewa Valley, follow this link: https://wqow.com/2020/03/18/takeout/

Erickson can be reached at [email protected]