Chris O’Bryan has been in the restaurant business for a long time, but this novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has thrown him and scores of restaurants and other small businesses a curve they’ve never seen before.
“It’s unprecedented, right? It’s never happened, and we’re all still trying to figure out how it’s going to affect us,” said O’Bryan, co-owner of Wyoming’s Rib and Chop House in Casper and other restaurants in several states.
Some things have continued as usual, especially the nationwide food distribution system, he said.
There have been a few hiccups with the hoarding of toilet paper — customers were stealing entire rolls from the restrooms — and hand sanitizer, but those issues have been resolved.
Sales are down, but they’re learning to rally with delivery and take-out, he said. “So people will continue to eat, people need food, but we’re finding different ways to get food to the guests.”
The Rib and Chop House, 256 S. Center St., has had plenty of food because it prepared ribs mightily for the Wyoming high school basketball championship scheduled for the past weekend in Casper, until it was canceled, O’Bryan said.
So Wednesday, it offered those ribs and other food for free to any restaurant employees who had been laid off, he said.
“If you can do something give them a sense of calm in a time of just genuine uncertainty, why not,” O’Bryan said. “So if you can give it away to people who are being affected by this, I’d rather do that than throw it away next week.”
He knows that unemployment causes stress for employees, especially those with families.
Server Jenna Spurlock said she thought the free food giveaway was a brilliant idea, but only a dozen or so laid-off restaurant employees showed up to take advantage of the offer.
“We haven’t had a big turnout,” Spurlock said. “I don’t know if the virus is scaring people.”
Spurlock has worked at several local restaurants and bars, and she was a receptionist for a local business before she helped open the Rib and Chop House in December, she said. She’s been scrambling to find other work, but with no luck, she said.
Spurlock is among the approximately 80 employees at the restaurant.
“We haven’t laid anybody off, but hours have been dramatically reduced for everyone,” O’Bryan said. “What we’re trying to do as a team is just share the burden; but it’s early. We’re a week in, really.”
However, he had to lay off about 450 employees at the chain’s other restaurants in other states, something that bothered him immensely, he said. “I haven’t slept in three days.”
The Rib and Chop House is still hanging in there, and is trying to find other ways to get food to its guests with delivery and pick-up orders.
Rich Albert, a coal miner with Arch Black Thunder, was among those who stopped by to pick up dinner for his family.
A few tables had groups come in for dining, but they were spaced at least a dozen feet from each other.
Besides those serving, cooking and bartending, O’Bryan said two employees were assigned to just keep going through the restaurant with sanitizer wipes and wiping down all surfaces. “Just do everything you can to make people feel safe.”