Cache Valley bars struggling through COVID-19 pandemic

A social distancing guideline sign is shown at the doorway of the Ramen Bar Friday, May 1, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Shani and Serge Oveson was excited to reopen dine-in seating at his small downtown Salt Lake City restaurant that saw an 85% drop in sales since mid-March, when eateries across Utah were limited to offering takeout orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Under Utah's phased reopening plan, hair salons, gyms, restaurants and bars are allowed to reopen Friday, May 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

LOGAN — Cache Valley’s bars and restaurants serving alcohol took a hard economic hit during the six weeks Utah moved to a takeout-only model for dining establishments.

Because of Utah’s strict liquor laws, bars could not do curbside pickup for alcohol of any kind, and most bars say takeout or curbside pickup for their food simply wasn’t worth it.

Michael Cicconi, a manager at The White Owl, said the bar makes about 75% of their income from beer. To pay for labor and ingredients for food would not make enough profit to make it worthwhile.

In an effort to provide employees with a stream of revenue and better the bar while customers could not use it, The White Owl provided employees who were interested with weekly projects such as deep-cleaning, organizing supplies and other projects employees suggested.

Our owner offered us projects throughout the closing period where we could come in and make money, so we did have that going for us,” Cicconi said. “Any task we could come up with we were able to do.”

The White Owl reopened their main floor and rooftop seating areas May 1, but their pool hall and dart boards are still unavailable for usage. Customers are asked to sit six feet apart and groups must be smaller than what was allowed before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since we’ve opened back up we’ve seen a decent chunk of business,” he said. “We do have pretty strict guidelines we have to follow, but people are following those pretty well… it’s transitioned more from the bar scene we had to more of a restaurant.”

The owner of L.D.’s Cafe in Richmond, a restaurant which serves beer, said the state’s strict guidelines have taken a large toll on his business.

With the restrictions that have been imposed upon us, it’s not practical for us to even hire a full crew to take care of the seating capacity they’re allowing us to use,” said restaurant owner L.D. Bowcutt. Tables must be spaced six-feet apart, restaurants can only operate at 25% of their normal capacity and groups cannot exceed 10 people, according to state guidelines. Employees are also all required to wear face coverings and hand sanitizer must be provided at the door.

“Cash flow isn’t justifiable to have a full staff in to take care of the customers,” he added. Because of this, Bowcutt has a “skeleton crew” running the restaurant. With normally five or six employees working per shift, he now only has about two.

Vocutt also has not sold a beer since March 15, as Utah’s liquor laws do not allow for curbside or take-out alcohol pick up.

A lot of customers that come in think this is ridiculous,” he said. “The customers have a hard time understanding what helpers are saying when they’re talking through the masks they have to wear.”

Old Chicago Pizza and Taproom, a new Logan restaurant and one of the valley’s only with a full bar, has also struggled to make a profit during the pandemic.

“Our sales have been greatly affected,” said manager Jennifer Gillespe. “We went from making about $15,000 to $20,000 a day to $3,000.”

Gillespe said the restaurant also had to lay off 90 percent of its staff, and while it has offered to bring all of them back now that they’ve reopened, they have seen a significant decline in customers as they are only allowed one-fourth of what is normally allowed.

During the pandemic, Gillespe said, many customers were worried about money and not ordering take-out, and their alcohol sales, which usually account for about 30% of profit, were shut down for more than a month.

“I think the whole thing was blown way out of proportion and was killing our economy,” she said. I agree with social distancing guidelines, I just don’t think we should’ve shut our whole economy down.”

While the restrictions may be hurting local businesses, Bear River Health Department spokeswoman Holly Budge said they are necessary to keep people safe and lessen the spread of COVID-19.

The purpose of the guidelines is just to protect other people,” Budge said. “They’re protective measures; it’s an interesting situation where we need to be able to open back up and reopen the economy but we also need to do so while being safe and protecting health.”

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  • Capt Kirk May 13, 2020 at 8:21 am Reply

    Don’t you find it interesting that we have been shut down as a nation and we have had close to no interaction. Now we open up and people are still getting the virus!! Doing what we did should of eliminated it completely in our area. Think this thing is a scam. To the point it does exist but ruining our economy for less than 1% in CV compared to cancer deaths in our same area is higher.

    • JJ May 13, 2020 at 11:34 am Reply

      You don’t catch cancer in social settings.

    • S May 13, 2020 at 8:32 pm Reply

      Traffic never even slowed down here…….uhhhhhh

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