With dining rooms shuttered and the din of a lunch or dinner crowd becoming a fainter memory by the day, previously bustling area restaurants are struggling to stay in business while laid-off employees are wondering when they can return to work.
Last week, the city of Lufkin and Angelina County passed ordinances prohibiting dine-in services, among other regulations, during the current COVID-19 epidemic. The county on Tuesday extended its ordinance until May 1.
Restaurants and eateries have had to switch to take-out, delivery, drive-in or drive-thru services to continue operations.
Prior to the ordinances, business had slowed at some locations due to fears about the coronavirus. Jodie Weatherly, manager at Ralph & Kacoo’s, said the bigger drop in business came after the regulations hit Saturday.
“The business did slow,” she said. “Once we had to close the dining room, that’s when the major impact hit. We’ve been fortunate enough to keep our doors open with to-go business. We’re hoping we can continue to rely on the to-go business.”
On an average weekday before the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent closures mandated by the city and county, an average of 15 to 20 employees would work at Ralph & Kacoo’s. Today, Weatherly said the restaurant is operating on a skeleton staff of four to five people.
“Our sales are dramatically decreased,” she said. “We have been doing to-go business and we’ve been OK with that, but we’re not doing near what we need to be doing. We had to take several people off our schedule. We have servers who rely on their tips who can’t work; we have people who live paycheck to paycheck who had to file unemployment.
“We’re running mainly off of managers and a few hourly people to help cook and clean.”
As the local restaurant continues to try and promote to-go orders and business, Weatherly worries for her coworkers, some of whom have worked at Ralph & Kacoo’s for several years.
“It is very hard,” Weatherly said. “We’re like a big family up here. We know our employees are suffering because of this. That bothers us. We’re concerned for them, for how they’re going to make it.”
One such employee is Josette Collier, a waitress at Ralph & Kacoo’s for more than 17 years who is no longer working.
“I’m not working anymore because it’s only to-go orders and there’s just not enough,” Collier said. “They’re on a skeleton crew and they don’t need me right now.”
For the time being, Collier has applied for unemployment and is hopeful to get back to work soon.
“I’m just hoping everything goes back to normal because this is crazy,” she said.
Weatherly echoed her sentiment and hopes to allow people back within the restaurant soon.
“We’re just eager to fill our dining room up,” she said. “I know everyone is ready to get out of the house when all this is over. We’re going to be here for you, our guests, and we’re eager to get back to business.”