At what might seem like the worst possible time ever, some local eateries have launched or expanded amid a global pandemic. Rather than pushing back dates, four business owners took the risk and pressed forward.
When Governor Kate Brown placed restrictions on restaurants in response to COVID-19, owners were faced with either closing up, or limiting services.
“It was really hard to watch,” said Omer Orian, the co-founder of Off the Waffle, a Eugene-based eatery. He says sales plummeted around 80 percent.
“Maybe when things are really good we have a couple payrolls in the bank…but to be watching [funds] drop at such a consistent rate is really scary.”
Orian says he closed two of his three locations, one in Portland and the other in South Eugene. But, at the end of April, he decided follow through with plans to open a new restaurant, Theseburgers.
“It allows our employees to come back to work now, and there’s a bunch of other reasons for this, but the gut feeling says that this is right, and it helps us pay our rent quicker,” Orian said.
He says the eatery, located within their downtown Eugene Off the Waffle location, was a concept they’d planned to pursue for years. Theseburgers maximizes the use of space since they closed Off the Waffle at 3 p.m, Orian says. It also gives them the chance to enter the dinner market.
“The energy’s really amazing, it’s really exciting, we’re all really stoked to have this new product that we’re making and it’s kinda like we have a new baby in the kitchen,” he says.
Theseburgers officially opened on April 27 with fellow local business owners and Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis attending a ribbon cutting ceremony via ZOOM. Orian says business has picked up for Off the Waffle, fueling his confidence in Theseburgers.
In Albany, Lara Herrmann and her husband Wolf were in middle of growing their catering company Krakelen Pizza when the pandemic hit. This meant clients either postponed or cancelled big events, and weddings. They still opened at farmer’s markets, but fewer people showed up than before.
“The people that did come [to the farmers market] would go in and go out really quick to get their fresh veggies,” she says. “You could definitely see the difference, we definitely dropped a lot in sales.”
For a while, they’ve run their business under a canopy tent with their pizza oven attached to a trailer. They recently upgraded to a large food truck big enough to toss pizza dough and show the entire cooking process. They also hired two of their four employees full time.
“We really wanted to make it happen for [the employees] and for us,” Herrmann says. So they pivoted and started offering take out and pick up orders during the week.
“I think it really is good for our company too to stay in the public view, that we’re out there, because I feel like if we restarted it again [when the pandemic ends] it’d be like starting from the very beginning,” she says.
Lara says they’ve been doing well and have been able to support the wider Albany community by giving pizza to police officers and purchasing ingredients locally.
“I think the future’s going to be really good for us,” she says, “If you can survive a pandemic as a business. you should be able to make it through anything.”
The initial shock of the pandemic seems to have waned for some, like Brian Kaufman. He’s a co-partner at Bo & Vine Burger Bar and oversees marketing and design. They opened in Eugene the day the governor placed restrictions on restaurants.
"That timeline was really interesting because that was our first, day,” Kaufman says, “And so we we’re really scrambling to figure out what that meant for us, for our team, all the people we had just hired.”
He says they’d planned to expand in the summer of 2019. The restaurant has two other locations in Corvallis and Salem. But more than a month into opening amid a pandemic, Kaufman says Eugene is one of their busiest locations.
“We have had to turn off our online ordering several times because we’re getting so overwhelmed, so I that think there was this excitement building for months,” he says.
Kaufman says while brand recognition played a role in their popularity, he also says they have a good product that’s in high demand.
“This is sort of a pandemic type food…times when people just to feel like they get a break,” he says, “Who doesn’t want some fresh fries and sauces, shakes, and burgers all the good stuff?”
In West Eugene, the family owned MBOSQ, a Mexican food cart, is finding similar success. Yanire Moreno says it’s been hard to keep up with orders.
“Words couldn’t express how fortunate we are to have such a positive impact of people actually eating here and people trusting us with their food,” she says.
MBOSQ is the lifelong dream of Omar Moreno, Yanire’s father. The family had planned to open in early March, right around the time COVID-19 cases began cropping up in the Pacific Northwest. So, they pushed back their launch date.
“We had to take a step back and reevaluate everything, it really broke all of our hearts because we’ve been hyping this up for a while, and I think there’s nothing worse than lying to people,” says Omar’s son, who is also named Omar Moreno.
They moved forward with plans after their health inspector pushed them to launch, since they had all new equipment, says Yanire.
“I think we’re a little out of our minds for doing this,” she says, “But just being able to have that reassurance from the health department and seeing that we’re all being really safe…it’s kind of all we know right now.”
She says although they feel they’ve been successful, it’s hard to measure and the future’s always uncertain. But judging by the reception of locals, they’re optimistic.
“It’s awesome that we all get to work together,” Yanire Moreno says about the family business. “We’re taking time and turning it into something positive, rather than it being scary.”
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