Karen Sweetser takes a phone order at Gippers Sports Grill in Auburn at noon Friday. Seats would usually be mostly full of patrons this time of day but the dining area has been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, Gippers, like a few other local restaurants, are still offering takeout service. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Rather than close and put all 38 employees out of work, Gippers Sports Grill started running takeout-only with seven staffers and announced tips would be split among the servers and bartenders missing work.

The first day, customers collectively tipped three times the average amount, with two leaving $50 tips on $25 orders.

Dyllan Jewell closes the lid on a takeout order in the kitchen at Gippers Sports Grill in Auburn Friday afternoon. The normally packed restaurant has been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, Gippers, like a few other local restaurants are still offering take out service. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“We’ve got a lot of calls so far this morning, so we think we might be busy and hopefully we’ll have to add another person out front to pick up the phones and bag up the food,” President and co-owner Dale Spugnardi said Friday.

Some customers tip on takeout, some don’t, and even with that surge of support, “We’re going to be down 80%,” Spugnardi said. “But we want to stay open as long as we can and hopefully it works out.”

As restaurants grappled with abruptly shifting to a mix of takeout, deliveries or curbside pickup, fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, several owners and managers in the Twin Cities said they’re grateful for customers still coming out and nervous about the future, like everyone else.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time because the changes are occurring so rapidly,” said Carlene Barnies, general manager at Governor’s Restaurant. “You can’t look ahead too far. You’ve just got to try to get through the day and you can’t plan ahead, you can’t plan staffing for next week.”

Governor’s started doing takeout-only Tuesday. People are coming in for comfort food and “lots of desserts,” she said.

“I think customers have been very grateful and very considerate,” Barnies said. “I can feel that a lot of the local community has been very supportive, especially to the staff and to the business itself.”

Being a mostly family-run restaurant, there’s not much of an option to let people go to trim costs, said Shivam Kumar, manager at Mother India.

“Whether or not we do enough takeout or not, it’s still not enough, per se, because there’s still technically that struggling of being able to meet costs of every single thing that we have going on,” Kumar said.

Mother India started takeout-only on Tuesday, as well. The restaurant started using the DoorDash app six months ago and he was grateful some of its customer base had already adapted to the ease of that before this past week hit.

“As long as we can, we will do this approach because we find that it’s better than nothing, to be honest with you,” said Kumar. “Restaurants that close their doors solid for two weeks, that’s not a good sign. They’re just not going to be able to pay their employees at all for two weeks. We want to be able to minimize that issue.”

Chris Lawrence, the owner of Val’s Drive-In, opened for the season on Thursday.

“We’re a unique restaurant where people aren’t in contact with each other, they stay in their vehicle, so there was never a doubt that I was going to open,” Lawrence said. “We’re busier than we thought we’d be with the coronavirus thing.”

He had to close bathrooms to the public and he’s stopped using glassware for the time being.

His thoughts on being able to make a go of it?

“We’re hoping,” Lawrence said.

Keith Tannebaum at The Vault, a beer and wine shop on Lisbon Street, had sporadically made home deliveries in the past but this week started letting his customers know he could come to them.

“There’s plenty of people that can’t or don’t want to leave their homes and I want to be able to make sure that they get stuff to drink as well,” said Tannebaum, who is now keeping his shop open. “I will say that the stocking up has mostly been on the beer side of things, but definitely plenty of people buying cases of wine to make sure they’re covered as well.”

If and when he closes his doors, he envisions keeping up with curbside and delivery.

It’s tough to weigh what’s best for yourself, your business and your community, Tannenbaum said.

“I think that I am a little unsure, uneasy most days,” he said. “As a small business, I think we’re all concerned with how long this might go and what that long-term impact might be, so definitely trying to figure out how best to make sure that we get to see the other side of this.”


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