Restaurants in Gaslight staying open through COVID-19

Grace Samra, Staff Writer

Last year, the news and social media called for people to eat local, but recently the call has become quieter. Now we need to start eating locally once again.

“Cleaning hasn’t been that much different, we try hard to stay clean anyway,” Rob Kowalewski, owner of José Babushka said.

Since restaurants should have always been this clean, the changes they have made have not been prominent. While they may have started wiping down menus and pens and wearing masks, there has always been a high standard of cleanliness.  

“We have hand sanitizer for our customers to use and temperature checks. We also have to limit who comes in and up to the counter.” Vachong Ku owner of Wok and Mortar said. Restaurants have added these extra health protections in order to prevent the spread and to be able to remain open. 

Although many restaurants changed their menu due to COVID-19 neither Wok and Mortar nor José Babushka’s has had to. 

“We have not really changed our menu, but we are more conscious of how we prepare our food,” Ku said. Similarly, Kowalewski has not made any changes to his menu due to COVID-19, but they hired a new chef and so they are working on improving and changing their menu.

Governor Whitmer announced that she is allowing indoor seating to open on Feb. 1, but with only 25 percent capacity with a maximum of 100 people, social distancing, and a 10 p.m. shutdown time. “We can only have 25 percent capacity so we are blocking off tables, and doing reservations, but we are saving space for walk-ins,” Thomas Pugh, an owner of Carolina’s, said. 

These restricted hours also mean that restaurants lose an hour of business, and many employees of these restaurants get a lot fewer hours of work with restricted hours.“We have gone to dinner only. 5-10 Monday-Thursday and 5-11 Friday and Saturday. It will change once again with the Governor’s new order, we will have to be done at 10.  Kowalewski said. 

This will continue to bring down their total income, but even with 25 percent capacity and lower revenue, restaurants still have to pay all their bills and their full rent. “I have only 25 percent occupancy, but I pay 100 percent mortgage and bills… if it keeps going like this many restaurants will go under,”  Kowalewski said. 

Not only do they have to pay all of their bills, but they will also lose an hour that they were serving food on Friday and Saturday now that the 10 p.m. curfew is in place. 

Not only are they paying full rent and losing an hour of that they can be open, but there are new costs that they have not had to pay before. “I’m paying more to have masks for my employees and customers. The price of gloves has skyrocketed now that everyone is buying them,” Kowalewski said. Unlike José Babushka’s, Ku said Wok and Mortar have actually had a profit increase through COVID-19. 

February 1, was the first day that restaurants were allowed to have customers inside. “The biggest thing that is exciting for us is to have customers inside and to be able to make sales. We are also excited to have our staff working more,” Pugh said. 

While there have been many hardships and uncertainties in COVID-19 for restaurants there are lessons that they learned and changes that they will keep even once they are able to be open. “We will keep the greenhouses at least through the winter, it gives people a sense of security,” Kowalewski said. José Babushka has set up heated greenhouses for customers outside due to the governor’s order. 

Restaurants have become more aware of how they prepare food and how to keep their restaurant clean. “We will keep the hand sanitizer, and limit people coming to the counter because it has been good for everyone’s health,” Ku said. 

Local restaurants need more business to make it through another lockdown and come out the other side. “We are comfortable here, but more customers would be nice especially if there is another lockdown,” Ku said. 

The need to start eating local again and support our Gaslight restaurants amidst all these challenges they face is present, so we need to go out and eat all of the wonderful food that Gaslight has to offer.