As the new year begins and COVID-19 vaccines are starting to become available locally, restaurant owners on the Long Beach Peninsula reflect on the changes they've made to keep their businesses afloat through 2020. Some of those changes are likely to last into the future, even in a post-coronavirus world.
Andi Day, executive director of the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau, said many local restaurant owners have adapted to restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19, including a second closure of indoor dining that started in mid-November.
“We’re just really trying to serve our businesses and community and keep everyone safe and connect everyone to the resources they need to survive,” Day said. Some of these resources have included grant and loan opportunities and partnering on local marketing promotions.
“We are also working to secure resources, rebuild our team and plan so that we will be able to refocus on marketing to visitors and implement a tourism recovery strategy quickly when the time is right,” Day said.
Salt Hotel & Pub
Jules Orr and Laila Brown own the Salt Hotel & Pub overlooking the marina in Ilwaco.
“We full-on support any effort to mitigate COVID and we made the decision when we reopened in June to run the restaurant outside all summer long,” Orr said. Customers still came to eat at the outdoor picnic tables, and they only got rained out for three days.
Meanwhile, Orr studied past pandemics and learned that winters were often the worst. He knew the rainy Pacific Northwest winter was coming, so he spent about $20,000 on a medical-grade, three-stage air cleaner and upgraded air ducting in an attempt to provide his customers with adequate airflow to safely dine indoors. But shortly after, the state shut down indoor dining across the board in response to a surge in case numbers.
“Everyone knew this was coming and I planned for it and I’m still getting crushed by what’s happening,” Orr said. “I agree that indoor dining is probably the dodgiest thing because you have to take your mask off to eat. But I think Washington has to look at making exceptions for businesses that are making those investments and having clear standards for what they need to do for air cleaning.”
“We appreciate the people on the front lines of this situation,” Orr said. “All our guests have been understanding and we look forward to serving them in whatever capacity we can.”
The Depot Restaurant
Nancy Gorshe, co-owner of The Depot Restaurant in Seaview with her husband and chef, Michael Lalewicz, said she hopes Washington will open indoor dining by the long weekend of Martin Luther King Day.
“That’s when people usually start coming back to their beach houses, so if we can open by then that would be helpful,” Gorshe said. “We certainly want people to feel welcome, and we don't want people to be sick.”
She said not being open for indoor dining during the holiday season has been tough, as in a normal year Thanksgiving week usually gives The Depot a boost before the slower winter months.
“I’m feeling a little more anxious than the first go around (of virus-related closures) except now we know what to do,” Gorshe said. “We shut down and put people on unemployment faster.”
Out of 16 staff members, 12 went on unemployment while Gorshe, Lalewicz and a couple other employees stayed on to offer takeout.
As a fine dining restaurant, The Depot never pushed takeout before in its 17-year history, but COVID-19 restrictions led to a reduced menu with takeout-friendly, packageable options. In turn, the new menu brought on a new customer base.
“We were surprised by the folks we haven’t met before coming for takeout,” Gorshe said. “We’ve basically pivoted to takeout and we can’t take it back. It will be with us forever.”
As a chairwoman of the Long Beach Peninsula Visitors Bureau, Gorshe has helped facilitate partnerships between restaurants and local hotels, including Sou’wester Lodge and local timeshares through Wyndham.
“They need places for their customers to eat, so they help keep up our takeout as well,” Gorshe said.
She is also on the board of Ocean Beach Hospital and the Washington State Hospital Association, and said she is very excited the COVID-19 vaccine is already starting to be distributed locally.
“It’s critical our community is not being forgotten,” she said. “They’re not left behind because they’re rural. They are going to be treated fairly and equitably.”
Gorshe said she appreciates the support of community members who have been getting more takeout than they normally would in order to support the restaurant.
“We wouldn't be here without that community support,” Gorshe said.