Many establishments have been hit hard in the last week, with new guidelines severely limiting their business or shutting them down completely.
Sunflower County restaurants are adapting and stepping up to continue feeding those in and around the county.
Peasoup’s Lott a Freeze and Nola in Indianola along with Stafford’s Market and Deli in Drew are just a handful of the area’s eating establishments trying to fill hungry stomachs.
Peasoup’s began as a drive-thru more than five decades ago and to protect their staff and customers, they’ve revisited their roots. With dine in no longer an option, second generation owners Brenda and Thomas Lott are working to keep their customers happy and not hungry.
“We closed the inside last Thursday,” co-owner Brenda Lott said. “We were really concerned about our employees. If we had one of our staff get sick, we would have to close the door.”
The restaurant’s take out window and phone have taken up some of the slack of the dining room.
“Our takeout window has been a blessing,” she said. “Our sales are down and are about to put a few employees on unemployment, but we’ll be fine. God has blessed us with this business for 52 years and we plan to be around for years to come.”
The staff are still constantly cleaning and looking out for each other.
“Constantly wiping and sanitizing and taking temperatures,” she said. “We’re all, all well.”
In Drew, the constant cleaning and sanitizing has been stepped up for Stafford Shurden owner of Stafford’s Market and Deli.
He is also looking for ways to adapt to the Coronavirus economy that has diminished crowds and distanced folks from each other.
“I think everybody is pretty well going down the same road and none of us is reinventing the wheel. We are all offering curbside service and delivery or a combination,” Shurden said. “In Sunflower County, I think everybody has pretty much closed their dining rooms even though it’s not mandated by the state of Mississippi yet. It is recommended by the Department of Health and they are asking us to do that. We closed the dining room before that mandate came through.”
Shurden is looking out for both employees and diners to keep as many folks healthy and safe as possible.
“Believe it or not, it’s gone really, really well. A lot of people are actually locked into their home or business so delivery is actually welcomed,” he said.
But with no app to order from, small restaurants are having to take credit card numbers over the phone or cash in person.
“It’s a little more cumbersome for us,” he said. “I’m looking at taking Venmo payments through my personal account.”
The biggest hit Stafford’s has taken is the total wipeout of his catering business.
“Forty percent of our business is catering and we lost 100 percent of that for the next 30 days,” he said. “In adding delivery, we were about even with normal business two days last week and one day we were a little over.”
Shurden has delivered large orders to local hospitals and such and is looking for more businesses of all sizes to deliver lunch.
“You think about these people that are working in essential businesses. Those people have to be at work and I feel like we play an essential role in feeding folks,” he said. “I’ve also seen some restaurants like steak houses that are cutting steaks for people.”
Shurden has run some Blue Plate specials and is continually playing with his menu but the lack of some items such as hamburger meat has hurt the offerings.
“It’s a problem with logistics. We haven’t run out of food as a country,” he said. “It’s not a really big problem.”
Shurden has been delivering in the Drew and Ruleville area. He also is working with other food industry businesses to market his offerings on a Shopify site.
“In the past we’ve just sold t-shirts on it. There’s a lot of people who still have jobs and genuinely want to support Mississippi businesses. It’s been on my heart to do some business development with these guys who are in the same shoes as I am,” he said. “We’re open Monday through Friday from 11:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. We’ve lost our Sunday business with no church. I’m not going to lie, it’s scary.”
At Nola’s in Indianola, owner Chris Grant has been ramping up his cleaning efforts that he said were already at a high level, trying to keep his doors open as long as possible.
“Normally, we are very clean. We Lysoled every day before this and now we’ve upped our cleanliness. We’re mopping the floors twice a day, putting more Lysol and Clorox out. The kitchen (workers) already wear gloves but now the servers are wearing gloves when they put the food out,” Grant said.
His carryout business has picked up with curbside pick-up.
In addition to making sure no one comes into work sick, no employees are required to work, Grant said.
“Everyone who is working is working on their own free will,” he said. “And we’re not trying to be greedy. As soon as I see the customers diminish and things slow down each night we’re closing up. Every night when people have left, I mop and sanitize all the tables and chairs and I Lysol everything the next morning when I come in.”
Working together to survive the situation, Shurden is grateful to those who are “eating out” with him.
“People have been really helpful and loyal customers have ordered. Without that, we were not going to survive,” he said. “I think quite a few restaurants are going to have to close before this is over.”