When Gov. Pete Ricketts issued the state's first Directed Health Measure (DHM) in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19, Betsy Mata, owner of El Vallarta Mexican Restaurant in Blair, said she was worried.
The DHM included Washington County as one of four counties where restaurants were required to close their dining areas and move to takeout or delivery only. At first, that DHM was to be in effect until April 30, but was later extended to May 6.
“I just didn’t know what was going to happen,” Mata said. “But the community really rallied behind us, and they’ve been amazing. Every day it surprises me, it’s overwhelming and it’s super cool.”
Other county restaurant and bar owners have echoed Mata about positive community support. But the move to takeout and delivery only has also impacted the food and drink establishments' employees, hours and usual sales.
“Our biggest concern is having enough business to be able to stay open,” said Katie McIntosh, who owns Rivers Restaurant in Blair with her husband, Troy. “The community has been great and although business is not at the level it was before, people are doing great supporting us and all businesses.”
McIntosh also said that due to the DHM, Rivers Restaurant has stopped serving lunch and is open from 5 to 9 p.m.
Jeanne Knight, owner of the Longhorn Bar in Fort Calhoun, said the bar is still open for takeout orders at its back door during its normal business hours, but employee hours have had to be cut.
“Everybody’s still working, but not as much,” she said.
Knight said the Fort Calhoun community has also been generous in its support for the Longhorn Bar.
“It’s greatly appreciated,” she said. “People have been very generous tipping the waitress that brings them their order.”
Employees at El Vallarta have also been impacted by the move to takeout and delivery only. Some servers, a busser and a dishwasher — employees needed when customers dine in — were laid off.
“We plan on bringing them all back whenever this is all over,” Mata said, adding that the restaurant is now closing at 9 p.m. instead of its normal 10 p.m.
Mata said she’s appreciative of the community’s response, and she’s also trying to show support for other local businesses herself. On March 31, Mata and the staff at El Vallarta ordered takeout wings from Jake’s Sports Bar and Grill in Blair and posted a photo of the meal on its Facebook page.
“Takeout Tuesday, the governor tried to make a goal of it,” she said. “I wanted to feed my staff, so let me kind of promote it in a way. Because we’re all struggling right now. We’re all in the same industry, so if I could put it out there … why not?”
McIntosh also said she’s been trying to help other restaurants.
“If someone is looking for a food item that we do not carry, we will definitely let them know where to call,” she said. “It’s important for us to remember that we are all going through the same thing right now … Supporting the other restaurants and small businesses in town when we can is very important as we all want every business to make it through this.”