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Economy

Metro Kansas City Restaurant Owners Worry They're 'Not Ready To Flourish' Under Reopening Rules

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Jenn Timmons
(Left to right) Bridget Calverley, Kim Granato, and Rafael Arriaga prepare to reopen Nick and Jake's Overland Park location.

Restaurateurs try to keep staff and customers safe, while also grappling with supply chain disruptions, social distancing measures, and increased sanitation requirements.

Kansas City area restaurateurs have big challenges ahead of them in deciding when and how to reopen their dining rooms — and requirements specific to sanitation and distancing are not the only issues bedeviling operations.

On May 6, some Kansas City, Missouri, businesses opened under Mayor Quinton Lucas’ 10-10-10 strategy: no more than 10 customers or 10 percent capacity in a business, whichever is greater; the city encourages restaurants to record names and phone numbers of guests who spend more than 10 minutes in an establishment.

Waldo Thai general manager James Chang says his restaurant has done enough carry-out and delivery business to “keep the lights on,” since he closed the two dining rooms in mid-March.

And even though doing business that way isn’t ideal, he says he won’t reopen under the 10-10-10 conditions, which includes staff members in the 10% capacity.

“That would just mean that we would maybe be able to do three people at one time,” Chang says.

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Danielle Lehman
Sous Chef Kevin Foster (left) and Executive Chef Pam Liberda prepare meals at Waldo Thai.

Unlike many other area restaurants, Waldo Thai has retained most of its staff.

Chang says, “We did everything that we could to make sure everybody still had a job.”

He says that in order to make dine-in business profitable, they’d need to open at about 60% capacity, so as of now, no reopening date is on the books.

Kevin Timmons, co-owner of three Nick and Jake’s restaurants, say they’ll open their Parkville and Overland Park locations on May 13 under Johnson County guidelines which follow Gov. Laura Kelly's state recommendations. Each location has a capacity of around 250.

Kelly has not ordered a limit on capacity, but has said that social distancing must be followed, which means that Timmons has removed 40% of his seating. The bar cannot be open. Guidelines for Platte County, Missouri, are similar.

He says the upshot is that they'll open at 50% capacity or just under.

The Shawnee location, which has been closed since mid-March, will open for curbside service on the week of May 18. He will open its dining area closer to the end of May.

Timmons says that he’s been concerned that they’re “not ready to flourish in this setting.”

“We’ve got to train our staff on how to handle the social distancing, on how to handle guests that normally come in that wait in the lobby,” Timmons says. “They’re not allowed to wait in the lobby, they have to wait in their cars. How do we balance those guests that are waiting in their cars with those guests that are curbside?”

Since permanently closing his Kansas City location in early April, he won’t have the 10-10-10 rule to contend with, but he will have to navigate a host of other obstacles including dates and policies on each side of state line.

He's had some staffing concerns as he's set the date for reopening. Employees are uncertain about returning to public-facing positions and are receiving more money staying at home on unemployment.

Both Chang and Timmons say the supply chain has become an issue as well.

“Not just beef and pork, but there are supply chain issues that I don’t think the public is aware of,” Timmons says.

Chang says some dry goods and canned goods he needs to create Southeast Asian food have been stopped at port before even entering the United States, and meat prices are beginning to rise as meat packing plants close to deal with infected employees.

In many cases Timmons’ distributors and suppliers have cleaned out their warehouses. He says they know they’ll need to “ramp up capacities” again, but without clear dates and projections of demand on items, distributors and suppliers face guesswork.

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Kelli Alldredge
North Kansas City Chicken N Pickle team members Maxx Titone, Taylor Ewing and Liz Enzor oversee curbside delivery efforts.

Chicken N Pickle in North Kansas City is operating under Clay County guidelines and is staying positive about the situation.

Regional Operations Manager Bill Koning says that their menu is locally sourced and designed for flexibility even under normal circumstances. So far, he’s not concerned about the supply side of the business.

“We have chefs in our kitchen who can read and react to the market and our menu is fluid,” Koning says. “If there is an interruption, whether we anticipated it or not, we’ll be able to move and pivot to continue to provide the food that people are accustomed to.”

While they’re cleared to open at 25%, for the well-being of employees and guests they opened on May 4 at 10% instead, Koning says.

Pickleball courts also opened at 25% on May 4 with staggered play, for a total of 32 possible simultaneous players.

Koning says he’s seen a great return rate from furloughed workers, though some have opted to wait until they feel safer in public.

“The restaurant industry is very family centered and we’re here to help,” Koning says. “We have a very special job in getting to feed and nourish families and create opportunities for people to connect.”

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