Restaurants struggle, adjust or close in the face of virus

Dirk Correnti, owner of Dirk’s Farmhouse Restaurant in Manti, is standing in the front section of his restaurant. After the Utah State Health Department banned dine-in service, he closed his restaurant and laid off 26 employees. While the restaurant is closed, he is doing cleaning and renovation.

Sanpete County restaurants are struggling, trying to be innovative and keeping up hope following an order 10 days ago from the Utah State Health Department banning all sit-down dining.

There are approximately 35 restaurants in the county if you include convenience stores that also serve food. Conservatively, they have a work force of about 175, some full-time, most part-time.

Since the restaurants were ordered to stop serving sit-down customers effective Monday, March 16 at 11 p.m., that work force has been trimmed significantly.

Dirk’s Farmhouse in Manti, probably the largest operation in the county, simply closed and laid off 26 employees. Jose Tinoco, owner of Jose’s in Ephraim, cut his staff from eight to five. Satisfied Ewe in Ephraim furloughed two servers.

Little Ceasars, also in Ephraim, didn’t lay anybody off, but has cut staff hours. Rodgers Dairy Freeze in Mt. Pleasant, with a typical staff of up to 15 employees, is keeping all its staff for now.

All of the owners interview expressed the same sentiment. “We’re hopeful it is not going to last very long,” said Linda Burgess, one of four siblings who run Satisfied Ewe. Tinoco, of Jose’s, asked simply, “How many more weeks?”

Closure of dine-in business is only one factor hitting restaurant businesses hard. Other difficulties include Snow College moving to on-line instruction, and cancellation or pending cancellation of events that generate significant business.

Little Ceasars has always been a takeout. Nonetheless, owner Tyson Olson said his store is hurting “The college students all left. That’s the big majority of our

Tyson Olson of Little Ceasars in Ephraim holds boxes of take-out pizza. His business is hurting because of cancellation of in-person classes at Snow College. “The college students left. That’s the big majority of our business,” he said.

business,” he said.

Dirk Correnti, owner of the Farmhouse Restaurant in Manti, said that last year “was the best year we’ve ever had.” Some of the factors were the final performance of the Mormon Miracle Pageant, the Rat Fink Reunion, and brisk wedding activity at the Manti Temple.

“We were poised to do the same this year,” he said. The Salt Lake Temple is closed for renovations and some of the wedding activity there was gravitating to Manti. And ball tournaments were being scheduled at Manti’s new baseball/softball five-plex.

When the ban on indoor dining was issued, many of those opportunities seemed to go up in smoke. Correnti tried doing take-out and home delivery for a few days. “But the reality is you spend $200 in staffing to make $50,” he says. The only prudent thing to do was to close entirely.

Correnti owns both the restaurant and the Manti Country Village Motel. Frequently, people getting married at the Manti Temple stay at the motel and have a wedding luncheon or dinner at the restaurant.

He says within three days after the dining ban came down, he lost 60 reservations at the motel. Some of those were weddings where people decided to pare down their plans because food service opportunities were gone.

Correnti said one bride cried when many of her guests cancelled reservations at the motel because of the limit on 10 people in a gathering, and when her meal and reception opportunities got cancelled.

But on the whole, volume at restaurants is down because of the loss of dine-in business and possibly because of general malaise in the community, owners said.

On a typical Tuesday, by 11:30 a.m. tables at Snow Dragon are starting to fill up with the lunch crowd. But on Tuesday this week, there was just one take-out bag sitting near the cash register. The owner didn’t want to talk about his problems.

Satisfied Ewe has cut its hours, which used to be 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The restaurant is offering take-out and curbside service. But business is 25 percent of usual, “and sometimes we don’t even get that,” said Linda Burgess, a member of the family that runs the establishment.

At Rodgers Dairy Freeze, a shift supervisor said not much has changed. A big part of its business has always been walk-in, take-out. One thing that has changed is that the restaurant isn’t making pies right now. People bought out the flour at Terrels Thriftway, where Rodgers gets its flour. “It’s kind of pricey to order it in,” the supervisor said.

The restaurants visited said they have received support from the community. Truckers traveling down U.S. 89 stopped in at the Satisfied Ewe and “were so appreciative” that it was open, says Burgess.

The public “wants to support us,…but a lot are nervous to come inside,” said Olson of Little Cesears. “We are taking extra precaution with our sanitation.”

Correnti said a top manager at Cache Valley Bank, where he has business loans, called to say, “We’re really worried and concerned for you.” A few days later, the manager called back and to say the bank was deferring payments on all his business loans for 90 days.

An undercurrent among most of the people interviewed was determination to stick out the partial closure. “We feel like we just need to be here for the public and ourselves,” Burgess said.

“I think we will prevail,” Correnti said. “We’ll get through this.”