Restaurants, bakeries, bars adapt because of coronavirus

Emily Lytle * Delaware
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

Restaurants, bakeries and bars make up the fabric of small towns. These businesses, many family-run, are facing hard times now that the governor’s orders have limited eateries to take-out, drive-through or delivery to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Still, many business owners in Kent County have shown heart and a positive spirit as they find ways to keep their doors open and support the community.

Jamie Compton, co-owner of the Smyrna Diner, said she has built deeper relationships with the community. From sharing posts on Facebook to purchasing food to praying with the staff, she said she is grateful.

“We’re in this together. That’s the best part of it all, the amount of love and support,” she said. “And I feel like everything is going to be okay just because of that.”

True to its nostalgic vibe, the diner launched a 1950s-style car hop service March 20. Servers meet customers in the parking lot, take their order and return with the food in a take-out box – full car-side service.

Keith Litchford of Georgia Boy’s Bagels in Dover said he is taking things one day at a time. The bakery, which first opened in the Greentree shopping center in 2015, is taking carry-out orders and delivering to customers’ cars if they don’t feel comfortable coming inside.

“I’m thankful for every person that walks in this door or calls to place an order,” he said.

Beyond adapting to carry-out only, Litchford and his family wanted to do more. After learning about the public school closures, the bakery started serving free take-out meals for students, announcing it on Facebook March 13. Since then, teachers and coaches have called to get food.

“That’s admirable to me, that a teacher [who] isn’t working right now would pick stuff up for their kids,” he said.

Two other Dover businesses, Sweets & Treats and The BnL, are offering free meals for kids during the school closures. The BnL encouraged parents to pay what they can, too.

“It occurred to us if some kids can’t eat, some parents cannot eat as well,” the restaurant wrote on their Facebook page. “We hope this can ease some of the pressure and keeping your family fed in this tough time. We will run this as long as we can afford to.”

Even with the reality of diminished business, owners are staying positive. At Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant on Forrest Avenue, owner Vincenzo Maddalena is continuing his full menu with a limited staff. Some of the dining staff are pitching in as delivery drivers.

“We’re here doing the best we can do, and above all, we’re praying every day that this is going to be situated,” Maddalena said.

Anita Wheeler-Bezy, owner of La Baguette Bakery and Catering, is one of many offering curbside pick-up and delivery.

She said it’s important to come in and order if customers feel comfortable. “The more they come into our store and order take-out during this difficult time, the more likely we’re able to keep our employees employed,” she said.

As customers order from La Baguette online, by phone or in person, Wheeler-Bezy said the bakery appreciates the community’s support. “During all of this, we are still smiling and we’re still very happy to see every person that walks in the door,” she said.

Alcoholic beverages allowed for take-out

Especially for bars and taverns, the governor modified his emergency declaration allowing any restaurant, brewpub, tavern or taproom with a valid on-premise license to sell alcoholic beverages as part of transactions for take-out or drive-through food service only. Alcoholic beverages can't be sold in delivery service.

Alcohol sales cannot exceed 40 percent of the total sales transaction. All other rules and regulations regarding the take-out of alcoholic beverages apply, including that containers must be securely closed. Alcoholic beverages cannot be consumed on-site, indoors or outdoors.

'HELP' loan program for small businesses

Gov. John Carney announced the Hospitality Emergency Loan Program (HELP) to provide financial relief for restaurants, bars and other businesses in the hospitality industry.

“Restaurants, bars, hotels, and other hospitality-related businesses, and their workers, are among those most seriously impacted by the coronavirus in Delaware,” Carney said. “We’ve limited restaurants to takeout and delivery services and asked all Delawareans to avoid being out in public unnecessarily. Many people from other states have postponed non-essential travel, meaning they are not coming to Delaware for vacations or business. We feel it is crucial that the state step in to assist these businesses and their employees.”

The no-interest loans are capped at $10,000 per business per month. The money can cover rent, utilities and other unavoidable bills but cannot be used for personnel costs. The loans have a 10-year term with payments deferred for nine months.

The Division of Small Business will administer the program using existing state funds and is aiming to have an application available later this week. Eligible businesses must have been in operation for at least a year, have annual revenue below $1.5 million and be in certain hospitality-connected industries. Email to learn if you qualify or call 302-739-4271 with questions.