The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way people shop, work and receive their education. More recently, it has changed something many Louisiana residents hold dear – the way they eat.
In March Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards changed the way the whole state could eat when he limited restaurants to delivery, take out and drive-through orders only in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
The move by Edwards, however necessary, has forced many restaurant owners to cut staff and create new systems for take-out and delivery services. The River Parish Tourist Commission website features a list of all River Region restaurants that remain open. The list is available at www.TasteTheRiverParishes.com, and RPTC Executive Director Buddy Boe said supporting local eateries has never been more important.
“These small business owners are the economic lifelines of our local communities, and we must do everything we can to provide them with critical financial support during these challenging times,” Boe said. “Whether it’s placing a curb-side order, take-out or grabbing a gift card, please support our small businesses.”
Managers and owners of local restaurants on the east and west bank of St. Charles Parish said the closure of their dining room is having major impacts on the bottom line of their business.
Southern Latte Cafe Owner Randy Muller said because the majority of his shop’s patrons are college students who come in and study, the forced closure of his dining room meant a significant financial loss.
“With most of our customers not able to come and sit, they just stopped coming,” Muller said. “I would personally like to thank our Parish President Matt Jewell for his endless efforts to keep our parish safe … Matt Jewell and his staff stopped in this week to order take out and check on us.”
Muller said he had to make the difficult decision to close his restaurant until further notice in order to keep his customers and employees safe.
Herbert DeLeon, manager of Coffee & Norco said business has been much slower since the eat-in option has been taken away.
“We have had to cut staff, add a second phone line for orders and implemented a delivery system,” he said. “We have had to adapt very quickly.”
DeLeon said the eatery is now offering free delivery within Norco and delivery to Montz, Destrehan and St. Rose for $3. But even with recent hardships related to the pandemic, DeLeon said the Coffee & Norco has received an outpouring support from the community.
“Our family is from Destrehan, but Norco has been very welcoming, and we view it as our second home,” he said.
Another eatery offering delivery is The Fatty Shack in Luling. Manager Perry DiCarlo said the restaurant facilitates orders via mobile app Waitr, but that delivery in the area and to the local refineries, businesses or houses would be available if needed.
“We miss our daily customers who would come in, sit and enjoy lunch with us,” DiCarlo said. “We were a majority walk-in style restaurant.”
He said the daily hot lunch specials have been suspended because of a lag in business, but that all menu items are still available, and he hopes to continue to remain open and service the area.
Rosmarie Gainey, owner of Atchafalaya Seafood, said business at her eatery has been greatly affected by the pandemic. She wants to be able to continue to serve the community, but at the same time wants to keep her employees safe.
“We closed for a few days to give our employees some down time to get their households in order,” Gainey said. “I would like the community to be patient with us as we try to maneuver through these unprecedented times.”
Viet Nguyen, owner of Cajun Kitchen Seafood & Poboys, said his restaurant has taken a huge financial hit with the dining room closure.
While Nguyen said he is extremely grateful that the community is continuing to support the restaurant any way they can, he is taking it day by day as to how long he can stay open.
“I’m not staying open for just myself, but really doing it for my employees so that they can have a job,” he said. “There is a very thin line that we’re straddling to either stay open or forced to close.”
He said the restaurant is offering a discount to essential workers such as nurses, doctors, first responders, police, firefighters and military, all of whom he called “true heroes.”
Taste of Tokyo Destrehan Manager April Ball said general sales at the sushi restaurant initially decreased, but that loyal customers and a Lenten-related boost in Friday sales helped to keep the restaurant in business. The business decided on a temporary closure as a safeguard, however, and its Facebook page said management hopes to reopen April 13.
Boe said in the weeks and months to come as life returns to normal, it will be crucial that small businesses, especially restaurants, have survived and can serve the community during the recovery.
“Supporting restaurants now keeps people employed, bills paid and ensures our favorite flavors are still around for generations to come,” he said. “The food of the River Parishes smells just as good from six feet away, so take out, pick up and eat local.”