When many of Oregon’s restaurants were allowed to resume indoor service May 15, Bob Holmes was ready.
At 7 a.m. that day, he opened the doors to Bob’s Steak N’ Spirits, near the Idaho border in the small town of Nyssa, Oregon. It had been two full months since COVID-19 restrictions had forced him to temporarily shut down.
But as he’s since learned, getting back to the old way of life for his small-town restaurant and bar is not going to be easy — at least in the early stages of the state’s Phase 1 of reopening, which all but two Oregon counties have entered.
Bob’s Steak N’ Spirits is experiencing a drastic drop in diners, compared to pre-coronavirus times. And it appears to be due to a mix of ongoing government restrictions and hesitation from customers.
“I would say our breakfast-lunch are 50% of normal,” Holmes recently told “Think Out Loud.” “The bar business is probably 35-50% of normal.”
That drop in daytime business appears to reflect diners choices.
“I was thinking everybody was like me, tired of being home, eating in your car,” Holmes said. “I’d pushed all along that we needed to be open quicker to service our elderly crowd. We had a lot of people eating here once a day.”
Since reopening, dine-in orders have been slow, with more hungry patrons opting for take-out than ever before. Holmes emphasized that he’s gone to great lengths to meet the state’s new rules for restaurants — keeping tables distant and extensively cleaning the business. But he said he accepts that different diners have different levels of comfort when they leave their homes.
“We encourage people who are scared to stay home,” he said. “We love them, but I’m not trying to force anybody to come to my new place.”
Meanwhile, the governor’s requirement that bar and restaurant seating close each night by 10 p.m. is taking a bigger bite out of Bob’s Steak N’ Spirits, Holmes said.
The business has removed seats from the bar area, reduced table seating in the lounge by 35%, and spaced out lottery machines. But many patrons who would have come for a late-night drink in the past may never see the changes while the bar is required to close by 10.
“Of my weekend business, Friday-Saturday business, 60% of it is gained after 10 o’clock — 10 to 2 a.m.,” Holmes said.
Despite the restrictions, Holmes said he is trying to make the most of the opportunity to reopen.
“We are doing a good job following the rules. We want to be open. We want people to come and see us,” he said.