Restaurants cook up different strategies

Kayla Renie/The Herald
Manager Kevin Kline, right, hands customer Vince Gentry of Huntingburg his takeout delivery order at Fleig's Cafe in Ferdinand on Wednesday. "Hopefully things will get back to normal soon," employee Pam Begle said. "But we are taking each day one day at a time."


Some never closed. Others are returning after time away. At least one is still waiting.

More than six weeks have passed since Gov. Eric Holcomb ordered Indiana bars and restaurants to suspend business inside their dining areas. The shift to delivery and carryout services came as part of a move aimed at cutting the spread of COVID-19.

The changes have forced establishments in Dubois County to adapt. Four local restaurants are approaching the future — which could change Friday when Holcomb is expected to announce some sort of changes to his executive order — in their own ways.

“Everybody’s just trying to survive the times right now,” said Rob Kitten, owner of Fleig’s Cafe in Ferdinand.

Brew in Jasper

Brew is back in business.

After pausing operations for more than a month, Jasper’s Main Street staple will reopen today. Though the American restaurant and coffee shop returns with limited hours — from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday — as well as a limited menu, its owners are looking forward to safely serving up curbside food to their community once again.

Brew’s time away allowed the eatery’s leadership to plan a return that protects both staffers and customers.

“I feel like we got a little clarity in terms of what can be done in terms of running a restaurant now,” said Josh Premuda, a Brew co-owner. “So, that’s kind of the route we’re going to take. We had always intended to reopen, it was just a matter of timing and all of that. This kind of just felt right.”

He later said the relaunch is like “opening a whole new restaurant,” because the dining areas will remain vacant and new steps will ensure food reaches patrons safely.

“It’s like starting over again, to be honest with you,” fellow co-owner Barry Dunlop said Tuesday morning. “We all came in this morning, and we’re cleaning, and getting stuff done ... but we’re excited. Everyone’s pumped up and can’t wait to open up on Thursday.”

China Garden in Ferdinand

Not long after China Garden in Ferdinand returned from a similar hiatus on April 20, the locally-owned Chinese restaurant was flooded with so many orders that it actually ran out of food.

“We’ve never had this problem before,” Lynn Li, owner of China Garden, said with a laugh.

The restaurant has served up different types of chicken, crab rangoon and lo mein noodles at its location off State Road 162 for a decade, and the food shortage forced China Garden to close just two days after the recent reopening.

Restocked and ready to go, the restaurant resumed business again a few days later, and orders continued to fly out of its doors. Like Brew, Li explained her business shut down so a path for how to safely move forward could be laid out.

“We weren’t prepared at the time COVID-19 started,” she explained. “So, that’s why we had to close.”

In a follow-up Facebook message, she said, “We reopened on April 20th because we prepared.”

During the time the kitchen was quiet, a pick-up window was constructed on the building, and other measures were established to protect customers and employees while following Holcomb’s guidelines.

Li is happy to contribute to her community once again.

“We just missed those faces,” she said of her loyal customers. “And we’re glad we’re back to see them, and they’re still supporting us.”

Mama T’s Italian Steak House in Huntingburg

Brandon Acles needs answers.

Mama T’s Italian Steak House in Huntingburg remains temporarily closed; the Fourth Street eatery that chefs up dishes using old-world recipes shut down in March after the governor’s restaurant order was announced.

Acles, Mama T’s owner, said he made the decision to halt business because he didn’t want anyone to get sick. He thought about offering carryout, but to this point, he has decided against it, because he doesn’t want to change his menu, and he doesn’t know how much product he would sell.

It’s a tough situation. And he needs more information before he can begin moving forward.

“There’s so many variables right now,” Acles said when asked about his plans to relaunch the eatery. “I’d love to open as soon as we get the green light, but I haven’t been informed on what the situation is.”

Along the lines of that timeline, he later said: “Honestly, until I get a little better idea of what I’m working with, I have no idea.”

In saying that, he was referring to the restrictions and guidelines that will likely come when Holcomb eventually does lift the statewide dining room closures and allow patrons back inside. Will guest numbers be limited? Will spacing constraints be put in effect?

He needs to know. Limitations could affect his ability to operate a viable business.

Fleig’s Cafe in Ferdinand

Rob Kitten has felt the outpouring of community support.

Fleig’s Cafe, located on Main Street in Ferdinand, shifted to carryout-only operations in March, and has followed that model ever since. Kitten spoke of how his customers have continued to place orders for breakfast, lunch and dinner, despite modified hours and no on-site eating available.

“It’s been working out,” he said. “It’ll be nice to get back to normal again, but I don’t know when that will be.”

While speaking about the larger food service scene in Ferdinand, he later added: “There’s so much support from the community, and so everybody’s keeping pretty busy. It’s not bad at all.”

Bills keep coming, Kitten said, and Fleig’s had to find ways to maintain cash flow. The restaurant has utilized social media more since COVID-19 concerns began to rise, and staff members have been remodeling parts of the building while it sits largely empty.

Business might not be as good as it was before, but Fleig’s is pushing ahead.

“Hoping we see the light at the end of the tunnel pretty soon,” Kitten said.

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