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Restaurants move to takeout, offer curbside pickup

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WAKE FOREST — Business has been slow at Charlie’s Kabob Grill in recent weeks due to the threat of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

But now it has slowed even further.

“It’s been two or three weeks of things being slower. Yesterday, we did $1,100, which is down $300-400,” Charlie Hamaty, owner of the grill, said Tuesday. “Today, we’re down 80%.”

Hamaty said by Tuesday afternoon, the grill had done about $185 worth of business at its Capital Boulevard store and about $200 at its Heritage store.

On Tuesday, Gov. Roy Cooper mandated all bars and restaurants in North Carolina stop sit-down service. Restaurants may still offer takeout, delivery and drive-thru ordering, Cooper said at a press conference.

While Hamaty understands the governor’s decision, his business does not have a drive-thru window or delivery drivers.

“We have Grub Hub, but we’re not like pizza. Our food is kind of specialized,” Hamaty said.

He may transition some employees to working delivery, but Hamaty may have to make the tough decision of closing one of his stores temporarily.

“I don’t know what’s the best decision,” he said. “I think we’re going to suffer through (Wednesday) and then maybe close the Heritage store.”

Hamaty doesn’t expect to see business pick back for a while.

“People are paranoid right now, and I don’t blame them,” Hamaty said Tuesday. “I think the governor’s speech this morning made it worse. We’d had customers over the last four or five days thanking us for being open. Now there’s no one here.”

‘Actions are needed now’

Cooper, calling the COVID-19 pandemic “unprecedented,” said the order encourages social distancing and will prevent the disease from spreading undetected. It went into effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“It is likely we already have community spread which is yet to show up in the testing,” Cooper said at a press conference. “And we know that more people will get sick and that lives are in danger. Therefore reasonable, but strong actions are needed now.”

Hamaty added that he hopes the mandate is lifted soon.

“I don’t want to send (employees) home because they live paycheck-to-paycheck. As a business owner, I live month-to-month,” Hamaty said. “We might survive a week or two, but we’re not a franchise.”

People can support local businesses in several ways, including ordering pickup or delivery orders or buying gift cards, Hamity said. Owners “can pray it doesn’t last too long,” he added.

Restaurants close doors

Charlie’s Kabob Grill is not the only restaurant in Wake Forest that has been affected.

Shorty’s Famous Hot Dogs set up an outdoor waiting area for people carrying their food out. A staff member greets customers at the door before bringing them their order.

Next door, Tonic Bar & Social Club has a sign on the door saying it is closed and will continue to monitor guidelines from authorities.

Norse Brewing Company closed completely Tuesday, according to owner Chris Jorgensen — just shy of its three month anniversary.

“We don’t have takeout established yet and now is not the time to do it,” Jorgensen said. “For the sake of staffing, we talked about doing it, but with having a full inventory (of food and beer) and staff, we’d lose money.”

Norse was selling beer faster than it could brew it, so it will use the time to continue to brew, Jorgensen said.

“I know that sounds like a good thing, but it’s not,” Jorgensen said. “Our 50-plus employees, most of them are part-time, they’re kind of screwed.”

The company is trying to help its former staff as they apply for unemployment under newly relaxed rules, which are supposed to make it easier for people to receive assistance. Jorgensen has offered to write letters as well as letting staff know they could reach out to him at any time.

“Our hearts go out to our staff,” Jorgensen said. “We’ll be able to make it as a business. We’ll be able to take a hit, but at the end of the day, we’re not the same without our employees.”

Norse is toying with the idea of drive-up growler sales, he said. If people are interested, they can reach out to the company through social media. If the interest is there, Norse will do curbside pickup.

Changing times

The Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce has reached out to its 700 business members this week to offer assistance, said president Ann Welton.

“We’ve checked in with everybody. We’re sending them information about resources in the community that can help small businesses in particular,” she said. “We’ve been working to connect members. ... Everyone has been anxious to help one another, which is a silver lining.”

Small businesses serve as the lifeblood of the local economy, Welton said. Independent retailers and restaurants give communities their charm and character while also being more likely to be on the brink.

“It would help for residents to consciously think about keeping their spending local,” Welton said. “Look for restaurants or retailers that are offering drive-up service. A lot of local businesses are more than meeting their customers halfway.”

Some businesses that typically do not offer online orders are taking them over the phone. The chamber recommends calling businesses to see if they are open rather than assuming they are closed.

This is an opportunity for people to work together and come out stronger, she added.

“There is a silver lining in this,” Welton said. “People are working together. Like Mr. Rogers said: ‘Look for the helpers.’ So many people are stepping up, and they need to be recognized.”

The town of Wake Forest has compiled a list of local restaurants offering alternatives to dine-in. The list can be found at http://bit.ly/SupportOurRestaurants.

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