Siouxland restaurants and patrons rose to the COVID-19 challenge
The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t left a single aspect of life uninterrupted. The first event of its kind in at least 100 years, humanity has yet again met a force of nature that it has been compelled to bend to (at least in the near and foreseeable term).
Perhaps the hardest hit sector is one close to me, and all reading this column: the restaurant and service industries. Iowa restaurants were given a mere two hours’ notice that they were to close at noon on Tuesday, March 17th. Although expected at some point, many owners and workers were taken by surprise at the announcement, which came on the heels of the announcement of the suspension of the school year. With the service and small business economy already facing issues (i.e. workforce shortage stemming from low unemployment, high food prices, etc.), the pendulum swung even harder in the other direction in the form of heightened health regulations, a hindered supply chain, plummeting demand, and much more.
However, Siouxland is often noted for her resiliency: restaurants found many ways to survive. Establishments whose business models that relied on heavier carryout and delivery volumes were unwittingly insulated from the worst of COVID-19. Milwaukee Weiner House, a Siouxland stalwart, found success in selling “family packs,” which allowed their faithful to purchase the ingredients and enjoy Coney dogs and chili from the trappings of self-quarantine.
Wheelhouse Bar and Grill switched to a carryout model, and was also among the first restaurants to reopen. “The public has been very supportive…We had a framework in place to quickly accommodate carry-out and we modified it as necessary. Since opening back up to 100% capacity, the public and staff have been very responsible about following recommendations,” said Wheelhouse Bar and Grill owner Dr. Ben Uhl. He continued “We are almost back to expected normal business.”
Others took the initiative to remain open, but on a lesser basis: Sneaky’s Chicken, who’s owner Dave Ferris was mentioned and praised by Governor Kim Reynolds during her May 12th press conference, reduced hours and occasionally closed to adjust to the low volume. “The last three months, without a doubt, have been the most difficult of times I have endured in 45 years of being in business!” exclaimed Ferris, who noted that Sneaky’s Chicken’s adjustments were out of concern for the health security of his valued customers.
Many eateries took the time close, take stock, and accomplish other goals: The Golden Pheasant in Remsen took time to continue to spruce up their location, including reupholstering their booths. “When the shutdown first happened, we had to change up our operation to accommodate to-go orders. We have always offered to-go, but not to this volume…we were able to get a lot of things done that we were not able to do when we first bought the place. We finished repainting the dining rooms and even remodeled the bar,” said Golden Pheasant owner Tom Ahlers.
Navarette’s on Highway 75 took time to conduct a deep clean, and repaint areas. They continued to sell carryout and “take and bake” platters, and were slow to reopen widely out of abundance of caution for their employees.
Users of social media also rallied to patronize their favorite restaurants to help them stay afloat during the uncertain times: “Siouxland Local Eats is a Facebook group designed to highlight local food in the Sioux City area. Originally created to help restaurants survive during the COVID-19 pandemic, Siouxland Local Eats continues to serve as a place of discovery for those looking for great local food and beverage options!” said Andy Boesch in the description of Siouxland Local Eats, as Administrator of a group boasting 23,579 members. Boesch added “I definitely would give credit to our community! We provided a way to support local restaurants and everyone showed up big time! (We) couldn’t have done it without everyone posting, sharing, and most of all being intentional about supporting local.”
To continue the theme of “taking stock” and changing, this will be my final regular feature for Siouxland Magazine’s cuisine section. The opportunity to eat my way across the region granted to me by owner/editor Stacie Anderson (and previously by Susan Fey and Becca Feauto) has been spectacular! I’ve had the privilege to draft more than 20 articles about area titans (like Sneaky’s Chicken and SoHo) and others that I desperately wish had hung on (such as House of Q and Charlie’s). Siouxland Magazine is as robust as ever, and I’m grateful to have had a small role for the past 10 years and look forward to its promising future!
By Kolby DeWitt