Jason Smith, the marketing director for Club Soda, said the cleanliness regimens that are a vital part of making patrons feel safe under COVID-19 are nothing new at the eatery.
“The sanitization issue? We’re like that on a regular day,” he said. “You can eat off the floor in the kitchen. That’s the way we do it. We’ve always really focused on hygiene in the restaurant. Because it makes sense.”
Club Soda is just one of the many local businesses that comes up in conversations about who in town does the best job of making customers feel safe.
Clean comedy club
People who are thinking of visiting Hop River Brewing Company and the Fort Wayne Comedy Club can visit their websites and read about their safety protocols beforehand.
Mike Moses, owner of the comedy club, said he goes to the added trouble of taking everyone’s temperature with a contactless thermometer before they can come into the business.
Groups at each table are limited to four people. If someone who has purchased a ticket believes that they have contracted COVID-19 or have been exposed to it, Moses lets them save that ticket and use it at a future event.
Moses was recommending that customers wear face masks before such masks were mandated.
Moses, who earned a living from the club and from comedy tours before the pandemic hit, got a job at Wal-Mart in March because he saw the writing on the wall.
“I didn’t mess around,” he said. “At that time, they weren’t talking about a stimulus. When they did start talking about it, it wasn’t clear that anything would be available to entrepreneurs. I wasn’t taking a chance. At the end of the day, the bill comes due.”
Moses said he is looking into ticketed virtual comedy shows as a way of making up some of the money the club is losing.
Hop River gets creative
Hop River Brewing Company has also been getting creative about surviving the pandemic.
Last weekend, it started offering free delivery of beer to anyone living within a three-mile radius of the North Harrison Street business.
Because of Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission rules, beer deliverers must be existing staff members.
“It’s really hard on the staff,” said Mary Corinne Lowenstein, director of marketing at Hop River.
One of the brewery’s owners will be delivering beer, Lowenstein said in the days before the delivery plan went into effect.
Lowenstein has offered small, safe events at Hop River throughout the pandemic and she said it has forced her to redefine ROI, which stands for Return On Investment. It’s a way of weighing profit against cost. For example, the brewery is offering a virtual beer tasting on Jan. 2 and has stepped up the production of canned versions of its beer to prepare for it.
Since there’s not much in the way of monetary profit these days, Lowenstein said they’re placing more emphasis in how much fun participants had and other more ephemeral gauges of success.
Club Room goes extra mile
Gregg Coyle, executive director of the Clyde Theatre, said the adjacent Club Room’s loyal customers let the eatery’s management know what extra measures were required to make them feel comfortable.
“We never went above 50 percent capacity even when (the state) said we could go higher,” he said. “Our customers let us know that that’s why they like going there.”
Coyle said they recently set up several tables in the Clyde lobby as a way of duplicating the outdoor patio experience. The distance between tables in that area is much greater than what is required.
“And so for anybody that, you know, is used to doing outdoor dining and is not comfortable going inside, we figured, ‘Give them a place that they could be inside with very limited seating,’” he said.
Health food shoppe Even Healthier
Co-owner Sarah Claycomb has a similar mindset at the Health Food Shoppe of Fort Wayne, a restaurant and organic grocer.
“I shouldn’t say we have set aside profits,” she said, “but we prioritize differently now, so profit isn’t at the top of the list.”
The Health Shoppe is closed on Sundays now, she said.
“We’ve also shortened our hours,” she said. “That’s an example of putting profits a couple of notches down the list. That’s expensive, but we have been able to keep everyone employed and give them a safe working environment.”
Lowenstein took out all the Health Shoppe’s dining tables. The shop also has “multi-layered signage” at the front of the store related to mask requirements and related issues, Claycomb said.
Still, maskless people do occasionally penetrate the store’s depths.
“There’s a big sign, there’s a small sign, there’s a sign when you come in, and there’s another sign,” she said. “If people get past that, they are doing that intentionally.”
“We had a thriving lunch business,” she said. “To keep the capacity down, we had to cut out all the prepared foods. We had to cut out prepared foods so people could still come in and shop.”
Old Crown Survives on Safety
Old Crown Coffee Roasters, another business that has earned high marks from customers seeking the saftest shopping environment, has become known in recent years for its food and craft cocktails.
But the core of its business is coffee roasting.
Having that core meant that Old Crown was in a better position at the start of the pandemic than some restaurants and bars, said co-owner Michael Woodruff.
He said Old Crown did a huge business in carry-out cocktails at the start of the pandemic until he was told by the Indiana Excise Police that they could no longer sell alcohol that way.
Old Crown is now allowed to sell take-out beer and prepackaged cocktails, the sort that come already canned.
Like other food service professionals above, Woodruff said the cleaning regimen at his establishment has been stepped up a bit, but it has always been high.
“We spray the tables a little bit more and there is hand sanitizer out on the counters,” he said. “I mean, we do get Board of Health inspections.”
Woodruff’s signs about masks explain the difficult position establishments like his are in these days.
“I think both signs say, ‘Please don’t make it uncomfortable for us. Please wear your mask for the five or ten minutes that you’re going to be in here. We have to wear them all day. And if we don’t wear them, the Board of Health will shut us down. Period.’
“We’ve had very few people give us any blowback,” Woodruff said.
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