Staying afloat

Mill Street owners discuss impact of COVID-19 on business, outline precautionary measures

Supporting the shops: Locals can help Calm Waters Coffee throughout the coronavirus pandemic by getting takeout and/or ordering bags of coffee online. Residents of Bristol Borough can use the code “BristolCoffee” and receive free delivery. Source: Calm Waters Coffee

Life as America knew it abruptly changed last week as mitigation efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus, or COVID-19, were implemented across the country. Specifically in Pennsylvania, on Monday, March 16, Gov. Tom Wolf ordered all restaurants and bars to close their dine-in facilities.

Despite eateries being permitted to offer takeout, delivery and drive-thru services, this prohibition has taken its toll, especially on small businesses. On the heels of the announcement, The Times caught up with several owners along Mill Street in Bristol Borough, who are all attempting to remain open while taking necessary precautions.

“From the business perspective, it’s been devastating, for lack of a better way to put it,” said Greg Pezza, owner of Itri Wood Fired. “It’s not just us in the sense of trying to stay afloat. It’s our employees and their ability to earn a wage, take care of their kids and pay their rent and mortgages, the same way all of us have to. It’s really taking a huge toll already, and we’re only a couple days into this. I’m very nervous and concerned about what the future holds, to be honest.”

The Itri team created special takeout menus as well as a unique setup for when customers come in to pick up their food.

“All of the employees are wearing rubber gloves and taking all of the important precautions of sanitation while we do that,” Pezza said.

For those who want to enjoy a brick oven pizza but don’t want to go outside, delivery is available through DoorDash and, soon, GrubHub. While delivery drivers are required to sanitize their cars and wear gloves, customers can request to have their food left on the doorstep if they wish to have no in-person interaction.

Safety measures: At Itri Wood Fired, the team has created special takeout menus as well as a unique setup for when customers come in to pick up their food. Itri is also available for delivery through DoorDash and, soon, GrubHub. Source: Itri Wood Fired

According to Pezza, the best way for residents to support Itri and its neighboring restaurants is to “keep it local.”

“The old adage has never been more relevant in the context of the food industry. For people in town who get takeout, I’d say that’s the best thing they can do for us,” he said. “I support what the governor has done. I’m not mad or feeling a certain kind of way about that. I think he’s doing what he thinks needs to be done. Health and wellness is first and foremost. But on the backend, I hope they don’t forget about us small businesses.”

Sharing Pezza’s sentiment was Andrew Dittman, owner of Calm Waters Coffee, who said locals can support the shop by getting takeout, and/or ordering bags of coffee at calmwaterscoffee.com. For residents of Bristol Borough, they can use the code “BristolCoffee” and receive free delivery.

As with Itri, Calm Waters has taken steps to protect customers and employees alike.

“We took out all our seating, put some flowers on tables just to make it not look so empty. We switched around a lot of our workflow behind the bar to have as few contact points as possible,” Dittman said.

Staff now puts condiments on food for guests and operates payments on an iPad. Additionally, hours are cut back to 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. All roasting and packaging is done while the shop is closed, when no customers are present, and timers are set for regular sanitation of the space. Calm Waters is continuing to order bakery items, milk and other products from fellow local businesses to help them keep their doors open.

“It’s a very interesting place to be. I feel really bad for restaurants and wait staff because now, those wait staff don’t have a job. Thankfully, for the time being, although hours are cut back here, we’re still able to keep our staff employed. Again, that’s a day-to-day thing, too. Depending on how long this goes, I feel like a lot of small businesses are in the same place – you can only operate for so long with a lower cash flow. So, we’ll see and do the best we can.”

As for Healthy Plate Meal Preps, which always boasted higher takeout rates over dine-in, owner Matthew Howard said the establishment has maximized its sanitization efforts.

“We’ve always washed our hands, wore gloves and sanitized surfaces to prevent any chance of cross contamination,” Howard said. “We’ve basically doubled that routine and now encourage employees to wear gloves while working the register and continue hand washing/sanitizing before and after customer transactions.”

Tables and seating within the front customer area have been removed.

“The less exposure to one another, the better. So, it’s just quick takeout service and delivery,” he said. “We still have our courtesy restroom available for those who may need it.”

Howard has also adjusted operations accordingly to accommodate the small uptick in Healthy Plate deliveries.

“Our delivery drivers are now required to wear gloves while out on the roads making door-to-door customer contact,” he said. “If everyone maintains safe practices and procedures, eventually life will once again become normal. We’ll continue to work diligently and do everything required on our part to help the community and ourselves get back to that point.”

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com