Columbia Restaurant Owners Talk About Bouncing Back From COVID-19 | Food drink

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Few industries have been as hampered during the COVID-19 pandemic as restaurants.

People were – and still are, to some extent – encouraged to stay at home. Even when things opened up, many were uncomfortable with the idea of ​​dining out. And although they were initially seen as a lifeline, takeout had little resistance as a lifeline.

Upscale restaurants were the most damaged. They rely on getting people to spend long periods of time at tables, racking up big vouchers with cocktails and fine foods that easily exceed $ 20.

In Colombia, the food scene is small, with reliable mainstays and few newcomers. Almost all returned in the final days of the pandemic, as pent-up demand created a period of booming business.

Free Times interviewed Mike Davis, owner-chief of Terra of West Columbia, Eddie Wales, owner of Vista’s Motor Supply, and Steve Cook, owner of Five Points’ Saluda’s, about the impact of COVID-19 on their industry. industry. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Free Times: What was it like running a fine dining restaurant in Columbia, which isn’t as well known for restaurants like Charleston or Atlanta, before the pandemic?

Eddie Wales: Normally, I mean, it’s not that different from what we’re going to come back to, I believe, for sure. Everything was going well, really good in Colombia, and we were busy. We were getting busier and busier every year, especially since 2010, 2011. We came out of this recession and I believe we just got stronger every year.

Mike Davis: There is certainly a market for it. There have been a few (bad times). The recession was a bit of a slowdown. And once that is over, like Eddie said, it’s pretty much every year that we get a little busier, and I feel like we’ve definitely refined what we do here.

Now it’s exploded. I mean, April is probably one of our best four or five months in our history, in 15 years. So that’s great. The first two weeks of May started gangbusters.

Steve Cook: We have shown an increasing trend every year. When we first started I was just trying to turn on the lights every night, literally. I didn’t think about what was going on more than a day in advance. Now we are a much more professional organization, able to continuously cultivate talents from within. For me, this has been one of the most disruptive parts of COVID. I mean, among thousands of other things, it kind of broke a lot of teams, especially for small family places like all of ours.

You all mentioned that after the recession things seemingly got better every year. Why do you think this was happening?

EW: I think it has a lot to do with the city of Columbia. It continues to grow. The food scene gets more and more sophisticated every year – college events, hotels, businesses. And we grew up with it.

MARYLAND: But at the same time, I also think it’s the culinary culture, just the rise of the starred chef. Then just the flood of culinary television and “Top Chef” and all that stuff that these people watch. People in America, their reaction to food in general over the last 10 or 15 years, that has changed. Fancy restaurants that look like a stuffy old school are getting more laid back and people are getting more in tune with different cuisine.

SC: I think Columbia’s growth obviously has a lot to do with it, but I want to stress that the reason our restaurants are successful and have grown is because we’re good and doing a really good job. There are a lot of people who have had restaurants in Colombia over the past 15 years who are no longer in the restaurant business.

You know, there’s a trendy new place that’s opening all the time. I see new trendy spots opening and closing very, very quickly. Sometimes it’s a tough business. The future of fine dining, the reason I’m so optimistic about it (is) people are always looking for the best, the cream of the crop, the experiential part of the restaurant business.

In March 2020 – when the pandemic set in, before the paycheck protection program or other aid was created – what was on your mind?

MARYLAND: At first it was like it was gonna be a three week thing, a month thing, you know? And that was kind of what they were saying in the press. It’s just like, “How do we get through this? How to flatten the curve? All that came out at the very beginning was, “Hey, everyone, let’s commit to this for a month, and this stuff will kind of go away.” It was probably only around mid-April or May, for me, when I was like, “This just doesn’t stop.”

The unknown aspect was the scariest part for me.

EW: Uncertainty for sure.

SC: I was terrified, internally, you know, mostly because of my family. For example, I don’t know how I’m going to support my family if you take away our sources of income.

When I started in this business, I was 26 years old and I checked bank deposits every day. We were so primed. So it was in a way the transition to a mode of survival.

EW: You just stay positive for your staff and try to stay positive all the time anyway. So you keep doing this and I think good things will come.

There has been a lot of talk about how things are going to change in the industry because of this. How has this manifested, if at all, in your restaurants?

MARYLAND: I think the (other) restaurant industries will likely change more than the higher end places. Just coming here, seeing the wine list, ordering the drinks and having the cocktails and having people who are passionate about all of these things gives you that experience. I still feel like this part won’t change that much. Now, I might be naive to think that, but it’s kind of how I feel, and also I feel good.

EW: Yeah, people want to be taken care of. And there is a pent-up demand for it right now. I’m worried that pent-up demand will level off a bit, but I think this will be completely offset by the fact that there are more business trips, there are more trips in general, there are more events and things to get people out.

SC: This is one of the craziest things for me, we are busier than ever and there is still no business trip. It was a big part of our activities, especially Monday through Thursday, and there isn’t any. We crush it with the locals, which is really the best way to do it.

As for how COVID is changing everything, it has changed society in general. Everything is different on the other side of that than before. Whether it’s the focus on, you know, the political aspects, or just the way people like where they want to work, what they want to do, which has often been brought up recently: “You have to pay a salary. decent ”, and all that. It does not go away.

EW: People have had time to think about it. It speaks a bit about the labor crisis. People say, “I don’t want to work like this in my life.” You know? It changed their perspective. They are holding onto their families more and that will change the workplace itself. We need to treat people better; you have to pay more. I think everything will be fine, for the owners and the employees.

What is the biggest challenge you are facing right now, besides the job market?

MARYLAND: Just get used to being constantly busy again. Just manage the volume as things come up.

EW: For us, this speeds up our weekday lunches. It’s the only thing that doesn’t come back, but I’ve seen some really good things in the last few weeks and more business travel. Everything else jumped back.

SC: The biggest problem I’m seeing right now is the supply chain is just f #! Ked everywhere. Tried to get some glasses for graduation weekend, right? There are no glasses.

I can’t just have #s! T as bizarre as our client wants. I mean, it’s easier to work with some of the little guys, but when it comes to bone-in pork chops it’s, “Oh, they don’t have them this week.” The customer doesn’t really want to hear excuses for why you don’t have one.

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