Some experts believe another round of COVID-19 may arrive later this year as temperatures begin to cool down.
But the owner of two local restaurants believes the nation will be better prepared to handle such a second wave.
“I think a second wave is coming,” said Kasey Carpenter, owner of the Oakwood Café and Cherokee Brewing + Pizza Company in Dalton.
“But I think that we’re going to be a lot smarter in the fall than we were in the spring. I think we’ll approach it completely different in the fall than we approached it in the spring.”
He foresees the nation using another approach to battle another round of the coronavirus - quarantining the elderly and other at-risk people “but we’ll probably have to be as much as possible business as usual for everybody else,” he said.
Rep. Carpenter – who also represents District 4 in the Georgia House of Representatives - was a guest on the Whitfield County Board of Commissioners’ County Connect program, which was live-streamed Thursday afternoon on the county’s website (www.whitfieldcountyga.com). Joining him on the show – hosted by Commission Chair Lynn Laughter – were Robby Staten of the Dairy Queen on Cleveland Highway and Lindsay Love Jenkins of Love Funeral Home.
Rep. Carpenter believes the nation won’t be hit by surprise this time if a second wave materializes. “Will we have to have temperature checking?” he said. “Absolutely – I don’t see that going away. Testing has become more available, so I’m sure we’ll be fine on the testing standpoint. So when you have all that information, you can operate as an economy. South Korea has done a great job of never shutting down their economy because of testing. So as we get that in place, I think we’ll be fine.”
He also predicts emergency personnel across the nation will be securing stockpiles of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and masks during the summer, getting ready for the fall.
“I think we’ll be able to attack it a lot different in the fall than we did this time,” Rep. Carpenter said. “But it’s coming. I think the virus has to run its course.”
Unfortunately, the first round of the virus has already taken a big bite out of small businesses across the nation, forcing many restaurants to come up with innovative ways to serve their customers.
Mr. Staten, for example, opened up his Dairy Queen restaurant around Halloween last year and says he was able to ride the excitement of that newness through traditionally slow winter months. He expected business to level off in February, then skyrocket in the spring as athletes from nearby Edwards Park passed the time between games with ice cream and other treats. Then the virus struck, and all those expectations were suddenly dashed and he had to come up with new ways to keep his business going in the absence of dining room guests.
“If anything, it has forced me into getting more mobile ordering, quicker than later as I had planned,” Mr. Staten said. “And we have become real efficient at that. You pull into a parking spot and we get it out to you.”
While Governor Brian Kemp allowed restaurants to reopen dining rooms on April 27, Mr. Staten didn’t follow suit, opting to keep using mobile app orders and the drive-through window instead.
“I’m thankful for the drive-through window – that has kept us on our feet,” Mr. Staten said. “We still have not opened our dining room up – we don’t have the square footage (to follow strict guidelines about social distancing between tables). To be honest with you, I’m not sure it’s worth it.”
He said he does plan to reopen the inside register Monday. “You can come in and get your treats and goodies to go and eat it in your car or sit on our patio or take it home with you,” he said.
Likewise, Rep. Carpenter says the pandemic has been a “real challenging” time for his restaurants.
“We feed a lot of people through the two of them,” he said, “probably 1,200 a day, so when we were forced to close (inside dining), it was a really, really difficult situation for us.”
But tough times call for tough responses, and Rep. Carpenter has answered the challenge the best he could.
“We bent our knees and got flexible, doing a lot of curbside stuff, deliveries, and what-not,” he said, “so we were kind of able to hold our own until things loosen back up again.”
When the Oakwood had to shut down the dining room, Rep. Carpenter says revenue dropped to 30 cents on the dollar, and Cherokee Brewery dipped to about 40 percent of past sales.
That forced him to roll out a mobile app at the Oakwood that had been in the works for three or four months, just much earlier than he had expected, and says he’s also sold meat boxes, strawberries, blueberries, and family dinner meals “so we’re grasping at every straw to figure out a way to keep revenue coming in the door.”
While he reopened his dining rooms last week, Rep. Carpenter says he’s seen “folks trickle back in not to the volume of what it was before, but with our enhancements on the outside and all the various items we’re selling now, we’re getting close to about 70 to 80 percent what we were pre-COVID. So we’ve been real pleased the last week and a half on the progress. I’m not sure all my peers have experienced that, especially the full-service restaurants and restaurants with limited spacing inside.”
Rep. Carpenter says he “gets” the stringent guidelines for reopening restaurants set down by the governor but calls the rules “a pretty big challenge” for the industry “for not only the next month but probably the foreseeable future through the fall as we experience the second wave when the temperatures cool down. We know that’s coming – how bad it is, who knows? – but we’re just going to try to keep our knees bent and be ready to go.”
He did note that the guidelines in Georgia aren’t as stringent as in neighboring Florida, where restaurants are being allowed to reopen with just 25 percent occupancy.
Rep. Carpenter says he’s been able to reconfigure his restaurants so they’re roughly 50 percent of normal occupancy. “We don’t need that occupancy right now because we’re only at 25 percent of what we were, but I still think it’s important to get people in the habit to come to your restaurant.”
He also said the governor’s decision to allow businesses to reopen last week offered them just what they needed. “Are these going to be the most profitable days we have?” he said. “No, but as long as we can progress and we see this week is better than last week, and next week is better than that, then we’ve got something to hold on to. I think that’s what people want in this economy is some hope. The governor opening the state up has provided hope for some small businesses, and sometimes that’s all you’ve got at this point.”