Shaun Simpson’s real-estate office is right in the heart of Powell, affording him and his clients plenty of workday dining options.
“These restaurants have become like family,” he said. “We know the servers’ names. We know the owners’ names.”
And he knows their struggles in this time of COVID-19 coronavirus uncertainty.
That’s why he started compiling a list of Powell restaurants, bars, breweries and other food- and drink-related businesses on social media, eventually co-launching the Powell Restaurant and Bar Support Facebook group – which as of March 27 had more than 3,500 members.
“If we don’t do something to support them, they’re not going to be around,” Simpson said. “I saw it as just supporting people who have supported us.”
“We started with 20-25 restaurants and we’re up to about 60 or 65,” said Randy Wilcox, who started the group with Simpson. “One of the first things we did was a bingo card. Now, you’d have to be a pretty big foodie to fill one out.”
Wilcox said not only has the group been a continually updated resource for information on where residents can get a carryout or delivered meal while restaurants are closed for dine-in, but it’s built a network of support among the community for these businesses.
“The outpouring of support from the community has been so great,” said Jessi Iams, owner of Local Roots, 15 E. Olentangy St.
Iams said her sales were in decline even before Gov. Mike DeWine’s March 15 order to close restaurants’ dine-in operations and, subsequently, ordering residents to stay at home.
“When we were told we needed to close, I shut everything down for a week to help get my 68 employees on unemployment,” Iams said.
In addition to taking care of her employees, Iams also said she assessed the restaurant’s menu to plan for reopening.
“I spent time deciding what to offer with a limited menu and limited hours,” she said. “We started with our best-sellers – things we knew people would want – but we also looked at ways to cross-utilize ingredients.
“I also wanted to come up with a way to do some of our cocktails in a way that would comply,” she said.
Ultimately, Iams opted to use Mason jars for carryout cocktails.
Dustin Sun, who owns Huli Huli Tiki Bar, 26 W. Olentangy St., and Espresso 22, 22 Liberty St., used a brief shutdown to help plan for operation under the governor’s orders.
“We initially closed Huli Huli, but I had people who wanted to work,” Sun said. “We worked to revamp the menu to gear toward carryout, to simplify and transform ourselves a little bit.”
Sixty percent of the bar’s revenue typically came from alcohol sales, Sun said, but he pivoted to offering more fresh-juice drinks via carryout. As for food, he said, the options primarily are build-your-own from various ingredient categories.
“The goal is to be able to pay for labor and for the food,” Sun said, “and maybe to learn a little something that will make us even better moving forward.”
At Espresso 22, Sun said he’s had to cut a little less than a third of his staff, but was able to retain employees to work the coffee shop’s drive-thru.
On March 24, the day Local Roots reopened, Iams has 12 employees working, with as many able to handle different assignments as possible.
While plenty of health and safety measures are in place from the Delaware County Health Department and her own policies, Iams said she now requires masks for anyone working with food, as well as no-touch curbside pickup, as much as it’s possible.
“Our staff was so happy to be back at it, and our customers were glad to see us back, too,” Iams said. “There’s a great energy in spite of the unknown.”
Simpson said the effort has been one example of a community pulling together.
“We all want to be able to, in however long, come out and eat at our favorite restaurants or drink at our favorite bar,” he said. “What makes us great is this idea of ‘Let’s all support each other.’ ”