Restaurants transition to takeout only
By Jenn Watt
Baked and Battered had only just reopened from their winter hiatus in March when the coronavirus pandemic hit and Premier Doug Ford ordered all restaurant dining areas closed.
Deciding whether to go forward offering takeout only was difficult for the owners Colby Marcellus and Craig Gordon, who had to weigh not only the financial side but also that of logistics, health and safety, and what was best for staff.
“We were worried if we went to a takeout model we wouldn’t have enough hours for our staff and they would have been better off on the government programs at that time,” Marcellus said.
Baked and Battered opened from their winter hiatus on March 3. They closed again March 20. On Wednesday, May 13 they’re opening once again, but this time with takeout only, taking orders by phone and online.
“People can go onto our website, hit the ‘order online’ button, and then that will take them to a full list of our menu options … they’re able to pay for the order online … when they come to us, they’ll come to our window and we’ll have everything boxed up and ready to go,” he said.
They’ll be using the takeout window they initially had installed for ice cream, but never used. Now it will be a key component of their new way of operating.
They are offering most of their normal menu to accommodate people who have been missing culinary variety over the last several weeks.
“Folks seem to be really excited. We’re hearing people are getting tired of eating their own food,” Marcellus laughed.
The process has been tricky and stressful, he said, but with programs available now to help small businesses and the long weekend on the horizon, the time seemed right.
“I think a lot of business owners are recognizing the opportunity here to try to salvage something of the shoulder season at least,” Marcellus said.
Last week, Kosy Korner restaurant reopened for takeout after being closed since mid-March. Owner Ann Gordon described the day they closed as a surreal experience.
“It was an interesting day because the Liars Club [a group of regulars] was in there, so there were six or seven of them, and we got the announcement from Doug Ford to say restaurants will no longer be able to seat people and literally we had three tables and the Liars Club and we were just waiting for them to leave and then we closed the doors. We were closed by 11 o’clock that morning. It was kind of surreal,” she said.
Since then, time has been spent renovating the kitchen, replacing flooring, painting walls and varnishing tables. “It’s a new and improved Kosy. We wanted to get a lot of that stuff done, which we would never get done all at once in any other circumstances,” Gordon said.
The decision was made to reopen for takeout as other businesses began to reopen, with more workers returning. With added safety protocols in place such as frequent sanitizing, physical distancing, and use of a takeout window along the side of the restaurant, they were ready to offer food again.
“Everybody’s pretty excited. We’ve had a lot of loyal customers back already and the response on Facebook has been very positive. … We’re pretty happy,” Gordon said. They are still fine-tuning hours and the best way to put in an order is by phone. Visit the Kosy Korner Facebook page for details.
Win Yeung Chinese Restaurant in Haliburton has been offering takeout only since March 14 – three days before the province ordered restaurants to do so. Owner Felicia Tai said she was anticipating a busy spring break and thought it was prudent to put safety protocols in place.
She said initially there were a few people upset with the decision, which she understood.
“I understand people want to sit down in a cozy room to enjoy the food and communicate with family and friends. It was a big decision to make,” she said. “... We believed the safety and health of people is more important than earning money.”
Inside the restaurant, plastic barriers separate the staff, who wear masks, from the customers who come to pick up their meals. The orders are placed on a table, labelled by number. As usual, orders are placed by phone.
Tai said customers have been supportive.
“They told us [we] did a good job to set up the room like that. They feel [secure] when they come into our restaurant. However, they miss us and want to sit down at their regular table,” she said.
Gillian Taylor, manager at The Cookhouse restaurant at Haliburton Forest, also recalls making those hard decisions during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when there was no shared consensus about how businesses should be handling things.
“I was doing my best to heavily sanitize the tables between guests, allowing longer wait times, I had a pretty intense, especially at that time, protocol in between guests – so wait times to allow sanitizer to dry at a safe distance, and then I just kind of was like this isn’t worth it,” she said. “The day prior to the provincial order I actually switched to takeaway, had a menu board out and closed my dining room, and then the next day the premier ordered the closure. I was quite pleased to see I was making the right decision anyway.”
The Cookhouse has been offering up most of its regular menu items for takeout, with a few dishes unavailable just due to the nature of the food.
As with her restaurant colleagues, Taylor said the first week following the provincial order was slow, but that demand has picked up each week.
“We had a very successful Easter dinner. We had over 55 dinners, basically sold out,” she said.
However, success is harder to navigate in the world of restaurant takeout, when fewer staff are available to prepare the meals. At Easter, The Cookhouse was serving two customers every 15 minutes.
“It’s literally just my chef and myself right now and I’m helping him in the kitchen as well,” Taylor said. “It’s interesting. It’s a learning curve. … I’m a sommelier. I’m more suited for dining rooms, so it’s switching my brain from the front to the back, but constantly having to flip flop during the day.”
Taylor said staying open for takeout is as much about the financial well-being of the restaurant as it is about providing a service for the community.
“Most restaurants have opened not just for their own [interests], but also for the community, so it’s a give-take,” she said. “... People have been very understanding and very extra kind and extra thankful. That’s definitely been something to put us at ease about the situation. It’s made it a little easier.”