Many restaurants face additional challenges
After two months of statewide closure orders, retail and restaurants could legally reopen this week in Kentucky. While some eagerly reopen, though, others have chosen to wait it out a bit longer.
Gov. Andy Beshear and state health officials ordered in mid-March that all non-essential public-facing agencies and stores, including retail, be closed in order to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Restaurants were only allowed to continue serving customers through carry-out, curbside pickup, delivery or drive-through services.
The state needed to meet certain benchmarks in order to allow areas of the state’s economy to reopen, similarly to other states. These benchmarks included having 14 days of decreasing cases and increased testing capacity on contract testing, among others, according to the “Healthy At Work” initiative.
Beshear began reopening sectors of the economy that were closed on May 11, and more sectors of the economy will continue to reopen slowly over the months of May and June, with some in July. Every sector must abide by the state’s health guidelines in order to reopen, though, and the guidelines are unique to every sector.
Beshear said he wants the state to conduct a “safe and sustainable reopening” of the economy while continuing to fight against COVID-19.
“Our goal is to reopen Kentucky’s economy in a gradual and safe way, to ensure that we can get people back to work,” Beshear said. “But at the same time, we acknowledge none of us have ever seen a worldwide pandemic like this in our lifetime.”
This week, retail and funeral and memorial services could legally reopen to in-person traffic on Wednesday, May 20. Restaurants could legally reopen to in-person traffic, and groups of 10 people or fewer were allowed to gather legally on Friday, May 22.
All restaurants and retail stores can only have 33 percent capacity inside their stores at a time, though, and restaurants are also encouraged to provide outdoor seating for their customers.
Retailers open under new rules
Many locally-owned retailers reopened their doors on Wednesday. Although they have to practice extra cleaning and other health protocols, they said they have looked forward to serving their customers in person once again.
Daffodils Boutique, a locally-owned clothing boutique, has store locations in Pikeville (Weddington Square Plaza) and Prestonsburg (165 Court Street), and both locations reopened to in-person traffic on Wednesday, May 20.
Vickie Horne, co-owner and company president, said Daffodils Boutique already provided curbside service and delivery to Johnson County, Pikeville and Prestonsburg before the closure order in March, and those services increased as they continued completing online orders. The store has also stayed connected with their customers on social media. Horne said that these things helped keep their sales steady while they were closed.
“We had a lot of curbside delivery, and we did a lot of delivery,” Horne said. “In addition to that, we have always done Facebook Lives and different things on social media with Instagram, which has definitely kept our sales good — not necessarily the best that it would be if we were open, obviously, but it has kept our heads above water, anyway.”
The store stayed as fully-staffed as it could while it was closed, though a few associates requested not to work due to concerns about the pandemic and the virus. Horne said she understood their requests, and she also asked her associates to not work if they felt sick or felt any kind of fever or other symptoms.
She said she wanted to continue working as much as she could during the closure orders, though, in order to provide for her staff and the community, in addition to herself.
“It’s probably the hardest we’ve ever worked because we always had to stay above what was going on and make sure that we were trying to make our sales goals,” Horne said. “Just because we’re closed doesn’t mean our goals go away. I felt like I had an obligation to my assistants, my managers, my sales associates and my community.”
While the store was closed to in-person traffic, Horne said, Daffodils Boutique worked to complete its website (http://shopdaffodilsboutique.com), which is now live, and they are currently working on a mobile phone application (app) for their customers. She said this situation helped them to prepare for the future, if a situation like the statewide closure orders were to ever happen again.
“We’ve done a lot of things that will help our customers in the future and for us if we have any other issues that come around like this,” Horne said. “This is obviously nothing that I feel like most retailers ever prepare for.”
As both of Daffodils Boutique’s store locations are now open to the public, the company has taken strict health measures to protect their customers, like thousands of other retailers across the state. For example, if any customers try on clothes in the store, Horne said, they are asked to leave the clothing in the stall, where it will be taken out by an associate, steamed and kept out of the store for 24 hours.
Horne said the company put in a sanitizer system at the front doors, and temperature checks are completed at least twice each day on the store employees. The staff also complete frequent cleanings throughout the day, like on the credit card machine and other commonly touched areas. The company will also maintain social distancing.
“We are highly encouraging masks to be worn,” Horne said, referring to face masks, which help protect against spreading COVID-19 and are encouraged to be worn across the country. “We can’t force anybody to wear a mask. Of course, we’re wearing masks. Our staff are wearing masks. So far, we’ve already had customers who have come in (Wednesday morning) and already have a mask on.”
Horne said that her company’s financial future would be more uncertain if the closure order had taken place during the fourth quarter of the retail season, which she said is their busiest time of the year. Although the company was not able to meet every sales goal while they were closed to in-person traffic, Horne said they were blessed to be able to stay afloat during that time so they could be there for their customers now. She also said the additions they have made to their store will help them as they move forward.
“Overall, we truly was very blessed that we had wonderful customers that continued to support us, and we worked very hard and had a great staff who did whatever we needed to do to try to help our customers,” Horne said. “I’m very optimistic about the future. I feel like the additions we’ve made to more than just a brick-and-mortar storefront, with being more on social media, on our website now and on an app, that we’ve just opened up a whole new level for us.”
The store hours are The store’s hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information on Daffodils Boutique, call the Pikeville location at, (606) 886-0007, or the Prestonsburg location at, (606) 637-1388.
Restaurants prepare for new procedures
While many local retailers have transitioned more easily into reopening, many locally-owned restaurants are facing a different scenario with more financial and logistical challenges to overcome. Some restaurants, like Pikeville’s The Blue Raven, have chosen not to reopen at all after the closure orders end.
Matt Corbin, co-owner of Blue Raven, published a letter on the company’s Facebook page, sharing the news that they have decided not to reopen.
In the letter, Corbin cited the return of limited in-restaurant dining at least until the end of May as being one of the major reasons for the decision. He said he and his wife have considered “getting out of the business multiple times” over the last couple of years, and the recent events helped them solidify their decision.
He said they plan to sell the business and find someone willing to continue to operate The Blue Raven. Any inquiries and/or questions about the decision can be directed to, email@example.com.
“This has not been an easy decision but seems to be the right one,” Corbin said in his letter. “We would like to say thank you to our customers who supported our small business. A very big thank you to our regulars who showed up multiple times a week and multiple times a day. You were the backbone of our restaurants’ survival and we won’t forget you. Our biggest thank you goes to our current and former employees who worked long hard hours to make our restaurant special over the last nine years.”
There are strict state health guidelines for every economic sector, and these guidelines are aimed at reducing in-person contact between customers of those sectors.
For restaurants, though, some of the guidelines have caused many to be hindered from being able to reopen any time soon.
Peking Chinese Buffet, which is located at 4533 North Mayo Trail in Pikeville’s Weddington Square Plaza, has continued to serve its customers through carry-out while it has been closed to in-person traffic. However, due to the regulations, President Andy Lin and Vice President Paul Pelphrey said they will continue to only provide carry-out at the restaurant, and they plan to wait on reopening at first.
“We have talked many times and tried to decide whether we’re going to open or not, and finally, we decided that, at first, we’re not going to reopen,” Lin said.
“We’re probably going to wait a little while longer and see how it goes,” Pelphrey said.
According to the state, restaurants should discontinue the use of salad bars or other buffet style dining, and they should not permit customer self-service at a buffet. For many Asian cuisine restaurants, like Peking Chinese Buffet, this has affected the sales at the restaurant.
Pelphrey said the state’s guidelines on buffet-style restaurants have also hindered the Japanese Hibachi addition to the restaurant, where the cuisine is cooked in front of the customer. Pelphrey said the limitations have hindered the experience for many of their customers.
“On the Hibachi side, we can’t have the person cook in front of you (the customer), which is the experience that you want, because you can’t get the social distancing going,” Pelphrey said. “They’re going to be there quite a while cooking in front of you, which is something we’re not supposed to do. The employees are only supposed to serve food and go away under the new guidelines.”
Due to a lack of an available buffet, Pelphrey said that the sales of Chinese food have significantly decreased at the Asian cuisine restaurants that he owns in Prestonsburg and Paintsville, in addition to Pikeville. He said his income has decreased by 80 percent since the start of the closure orders.
“People are just not used to it except in a buffet setting,” Pelphrey said. “Even carry-out, they usually come in and get carry-out buffet, but they can’t get it now.”
According to the state, restaurants are required to limit the number of customers present in any given restaurant to 33 percent of the maximum permitted occupancy of seating capacity, assuming all individuals in the restaurant are able to maintain six feet of space between each other with that level of occupancy.
This means that people cannot be seated within six feet of a person seated at another table or booth. Restaurants are also encouraged to install portable or permanent non-porous physical barriers, like plexiglass shields, between tables to limit the possible spread of droplets that may spread from person to person.
Restaurants must be frequently cleaned and sanitized in order to be reopened. The staff at Peking Chinese Buffet already frequently clean, provide hand sanitizer and wear personal protective equipment (PPE), among other health precautions. However, for a full-service restaurant like Peking Chinese Buffet to reopen, it would require hiring on new cleaning staff, in addition to paying for servers and kitchen staff.
If restaurants plan to reopen, many would also have to add additional costs in order to follow the strict safety guidelines. According to the state, restaurants that plan to reopen must discontinue the use of tablecloths or cloth napkins and should use disposable menus, napkins, table cloths, disposable utensils and condiments.
The cost of food has also increased due to food shortages across the country, particularly with beef and chicken. Several beef and chicken processing plants have needed to close temporarily for additional cleaning and safety protocol measures in order to protect against COVID-19.
“There are a lot of things to consider when reopening,” Lin said. “The food cost is dramatically high on the Hibachi side because with the Hibachi, we’re not serving something cheap. People know that we always serve the highest quality of meat. For the new distributor we’ve got now, the price of beef has almost doubled. Chicken was okay until, this week, I checked it and it has nearly doubled from last week.”
For smaller and locally-owned restaurants, these additional costs can be too expensive, especially due to the reduced number of customers and staff that are allowed to be inside the restaurant at any given time. This has led to many, like Peking Chinese Buffet, choosing not to reopen to in-person traffic across the region and state for the time being.
However, Pelphrey and Lin also manage 123 Cafe, a food court located at 244 Cassidy Boulevard, and they said that reopened to in-person traffic on Friday, May 22. The restrictions and guidelines have allowed them to be able to reopen safely to in-person traffic, in addition to providing carry-out and curbside services.
As they discussed reopening for all of their restaurants, though, Pelphrey said that he and Lin needed to consider several aspects of safety before they moved forward with a decision.
“We have the safety of our customers, the safety of our employees and also that we can generate revenue to pay the help that’s needed for those to happen because there’s going to be additional expense to reopen inside for any restaurant, not just us,” Pelphrey said.
“We just want to do our best to keep our customers and our employees safe,” Lin said.
Pelphrey said, though, that he hopes the situation can get better for the Peking Chinese Buffet to be able to reopen to in-person traffic soon. He expressed gratitude for their customers for sticking with them and helping them during this time.
“We hope to return to pre-COVID-19, get back to normal to where everyone can be comfortable coming out to eat and that we’ll be able to get back to doing things the way we want, providing the buffet and having the Hibachi opened as normal,” Pelphrey said. “I’m not sure when that will happen. We appreciate our customers, and we hope they continue to come to our restaurants. We’ll get reopened as soon as possible.”
For more information on Pikeville’s Peking Chinese Buffet, call, (606) 437-6788, or visit, www.pekingky.com.
For more information on Pikeville’s 123 Cafe, call, (606) 766-8888, or visit “123 Cafe Pikeville” on Facebook.
State officials said that people should be prepared for state and local public health orders to be extended, amended or changed as needed to protect public health.
For all guidelines and the state’s current reopening schedule, visit the Kentucky Governor’s Office website on the “Healthy At Work” initiative at, https://govstatus.egov.com/ky-healthy-at-work.