Local restaurants share experiences during COVID-19

Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Now that restaurants and bars are allowed to fully open in Iowa, while practicing social distancing, some are finding those directives hard to follow.

     At Darrell’s A Family Tradition, owners Nicole and Cory Reyner, felt it was necessary to stay at 50 percent capacity in order to maintain the 6-foot social distancing.

     “We can’t have all of our tables in here,” Nicole said.

     On June 1, Darrell’s re-opened to dine-in services. It wasn’t until June 15 that they could re-open their popular buffet.

     “We had to wait for some supplies to come in,” Reyner said.

     Darrell’s did a soft opening to begin with, not publicizing it just to see how things would go at first.

     With more and more customers filtering in, the employees are wiping surfaces down more often.

     “All commonly touched items and surfaces, including menus, are wiped down,” said Reyner.

     Governor Kim Reynolds announced that restaurants and bars would have to close down beginning at noon on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. The announcement was made around 11 a.m. that day.

     “We already had our buffet out and another hour to serve people,” said Reyner. “So we still served our lunch crowd, and then immediately started carry-outs that night.”

     Because it was St. Patrick’s Day, Darrell’s had corned beef and cabbage on the buffet, which turned into their evening special.

     “I expected this,” said Reyner, who thought at some point the state would close down restaurants for a while.

     They also had to lay some employees off simply because the workload was not there for a while. Reyner worked along her mother and mother-in-law over the past few months.

     “I just wasn’t sure how busy we were going to be,” she said of staffing.

     When Darrell’s went to 100 percent carry-outs, Reyner said their breakfast crowd was completely depleted. Now, things are picking back up more in the mornings.

     Darrell’s is also a popular spot for morning coffee groups to meet and solve all of the world’s problems. Now, because of social distancing, the number of groups has decreased a bit, as have the amount of coffee drinkers per group.

     “I had to get rid of the ‘Table of Knowledge’ to spread them out more,” laughed Reyner. “So we just use small tables.”

     Serving at 50 percent capacity, Darrell’s is still offering carry-outs for those who don’t feel comfortable dining in quite yet. While staff have returned, Reyner said they’re not working their full hours quite yet.

     “I’m hoping it picks up again this summer,” she said.

     With many community events cancelled or postponed, such as the fair, Reyner said will be another hit to their business. So many of the regular fairgoers and workers patronize Darrell’s every time their return to Monticello.

     “The fair is our busiest week ever,” she said.

     The Great Jones County Fair is known as the “Five Best Days of Summer.” At Darrell’s it’s known as the “Five Best Sundays of Summer” because Sunday is their busiest of the week.

     “I’ll miss seeing our regulars come in,” said Reyner. “They’re nice people.”

     April 1 was supposed to be Cory and Nicole’s five-year anniversary of owning the family-run restaurant. They had a customer appreciation event planned, which had to be called off.

     Reyner said they really appreciate the community’s support throughout this whole ordeal.

     “It’s very humbling,” she said.

     Legacy Lanes, which serves food, drinks, and operates as a community bowling center, remained opened throughout the pandemic, but had to shut down its bowling side of the business.

     Owner Brian Meyer was on his way out of state when his mother, who works at Legacy Lanes, contacted him about the governor’s order to shut down.

     “It was non-negotiable; we had to close,” he said.

     The very next day they started pushing their carry-out services, remaining open as an essential food service.

     Meyer said while some employees were not comfortable continuing to work, they did they best to provide for the community.

     “We got busier thanks to all of the support and the fire department,” he said of the delivery service. “They (The Monticello Fire Department) made a big difference.”

     Knowing they had to operate a little differently than normal, Meyer said they didn’t panic and just figured things out as they came.

     “I have a lot of faith things will work themselves out,” he said. “When people around you are panicking, as the owner, you can’t panic.”

     Yes, being closed to the public caused Legacy Lanes to lose revenue, but now that bowling alleys can re-open to the public, Meyer said slowly seeing open bowling return.

     “We’re not at 100 percent because this time of the year is the off-season,” he said of the absence of bowling leagues, which normally end in early May. “I haven’t done tournaments yet, and we’re limiting groups to 10 people or less. So far it’s not been an issue.”

     Meyer shared that bowlers typically do other leisure activities during the summer, picking up again in the fall.

     Meyer said throughout the virus, people remained at home and chose to patronize local restaurants rather than drive into Cedar Rapids or Dubuque. He hopes that pattern continues as things re-open more and more.

     Like Darrell’s Legacy Lanes saw the upside to community support, and Meyer said that support is not something he’ll ever forget.

     “It started with the fire department,” he praised.

     He said while the virus impacted everyone’s pocketbook, locals still spent the money to eat out and support locally owned businesses.

     In the beginning, they decreased their hours and staff. The delivery and carry-out business has always a strong suit for Legacy Lanes since it started in 2002, and Meyer said it continues to remain that way.

     “We’ve already established what works for us and didn’t really need to recreate anything here,” he said of food long-standing services.

     Friday evenings remain their busy night serving gests at the local campgrounds who look forward to Legacy Lanes’ food.

     “That’s been a blessing for us,” said Meyer.

     With the public allowed to dine in, Legacy Lanes is taking extra precautions to sanitize high-touched areas. Meyer said anyone who’s gone through Safe Serve knows the proper protocol when it comes to cleanliness. For the comfort of their patrons, the staff also wore facemasks while working in the kitchen.

     “This is an unseen enemy,” said Meyer of the virus. “You don’t know who’s been exposed and people are afraid.”

     The bowling balls are wiped down after each use, and patrons are asked to leave them on the ball return rack versus putting them back on the shelves. The employees will put the bowling balls away after they’ve been wiped down.

     “We’ve changed our procedures a little bit,” said Meyer.

     When it comes to social distancing, Legacy Lanes provides plenty of space anyway, Meyer didn’t see the need to space tables and chairs out even more than normal.

     “As long people remain with their groups, we’re OK,” he said.


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