Laurel restaurants adjust to COVID–19 restrictions on the fly

By 
Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, March 19, 2020
Laurel School District staff hand out lunches to students at the Laurel Public Library as part of the Emergency Feeding Program the district implemented on Tuesday. Breakfast is being served from 7:30–8:30 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Students must be present if their parents/guardians drive them to the library. Outlook photo by Chris McConnell

Laurel School District staff hand out lunches to students at the Laurel Public Library as part of the Emergency Feeding Program the district implemented on Tuesday. Breakfast is being served from 7:30–8:30 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Students must be present if their parents/guardians drive them to the library. Outlook photo by Chris McConnell

As of Tuesday, March 17 at 8 a.m., all bars, brew pubs, wineries and casinos in Yellowstone County are closed through midnight on March 23. While remaining closed to dine–in customers, food service operations are still allowed to provide take–out and delivery services. In addition, food service establishments that serve a population that depends on it as one of its sole sources of food, such as university dining facilities or cafeterias in hospital and care facilities, may continue to operate using essential personnel.

What this means for local businesses is quick changes and difficult difficult decisions.

On Tuesday afternoon the Outlook spoke with several local businesses and asked how they are adapting on the first day of the restrictions.

• Jackie Johnson, owner of The Yogurt Shop, said they made changes on the fly and are taking things day by day. “If business stays up, staffing and hours will remain the same, but if we see a drop the staff will be put on standby,” she said.

While customers cannot stay and eat, The Yogurt Shop is offering all menu items and they have disposable gloves customers can wear if they use the yogurt machines and staff is cleaning and sanitizing constantly. Johnson said they have also acted as car–hops for customers who didn’t want to come into the shop. All in all Johnson remained optimistic during the first day of the restrictions. “The Laurel community has been amazing. We have been moved to tears over the past two days from the overwhelming support we have received,” she said.

• At Dickey’s Barbecue Pit business had been slow on Tuesday, but Store Manager Martin Lozano thought that was due to customers were assuming they were closed. “Our customer base is normally 50/50 for dine–in versus take–out and we had been doing well, but are struggling today.” Lozano said they put signs up in the window stating they remain open for take–out customers and will take it day–by–day when it comes to staffing. “We don’t want to lay anybody off but we will likely have to cut some hours,” he said.

• Fowl Play owner Joe Holetz said his entire building is shut down except for the kitchen and is operating on a skeleton crew. Holetz said he, his daughter and sister are offering a full menu through the drive–thru window and are open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. “I’m the cook and they are doing everything else. We will offer delivery service but only on sizable orders.”

• The Pelican Cafe has more than their share of regulars and on Tuesday morning many of them didn’t realize the Board of Health had enacted the restrictions which is not surprising considering how fast the news and updates on the virus have been changing. Owner Jamie Newsome said only a small percentage of customers were aware of the dine–in ban that morning. “Some of our regulars were upset and said it was more about socializing that eating for them.” The Pelican Cafe remains open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and they are waiving all fees for delivery or pick–up orders.

• The Beartooth Grill and Sid’s East Side Bar & Grill are closed.

• The Hardee’s, McDonalds, Taco Bell and Taco John’s fast food drive-thrus remain open.

• Subway posted this statement, “All Subway restaurants in Billings, Laurel, and Columbus will remain open. We’re also making it as easy as possible to come and get your favorite subs by offering a buy one get one free on all footlong sandwiches that are ordered online, by app, or on Uber eats for delivery. We’ll even arrange for curbside pickup if you want to call ahead. Please remember how many of us out there are fighting to stay open and keep our employees with jobs and paychecks during these difficult times. Your support is greatly appreciated!”

• Guadaljara Mexican Restaurant is offering pick–up and free delivery within the Laurel City limits.

• Dragon Palace continues to operate with normal business hours and take–out service.

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