Local restaurants will pause indoor dining, but step up delivery and pickup services

Bay City’s restaurants are trying different tactics for coping with the latest restrictions on indoor dining. Traditional take-out, curbside pick-up, delivery, and closures all are on the menu as restaurants enter what should be their busy season.

Over the summer months many restaurants opened up patio seating and outdoor dining to serve customers in a socially-distant atmosphere. But Michigan’s cold season only allows that for a short time. Then, on Nov. 15, just as restaurants were adaptitng to limited indoor seating, the state issued an emergency order calling for a three-week pause. The pause affects businesses, schools, and households. For restaurants, the pause means no indoor dining.

Brooklyn Boyz employee Sarah Miller wears a mask while packaging up an order for delivery.Greg Kimbrue, owner of VNO Wine Warehouse & New Age Restaurant, 512 E. Midland St., says the timing of the shut-down is unfortunate because from about mid-November through the end of the year is a restaurant’s busiest season.

Last year at this time, Kimbrue said VNO had 2,200 seats booked for the first two weeks of December, and though he’s already reserved some parties for the holiday season, he’s taking it one day at a time, hoping for the best, but planning for a quiet December.

Greg Kimbrue, who owns VNOs, says he had hoped restaurants wouldn't have to close to indoor dining again.“With Christmas parties – we, meaning every restaurant owner, wants what’s best and to protect the customer because without customers there is no business.” He says he’s trying to remain optimistic about being able to reopen on Dec. 8, when the three-week pauses is scheduled to end.

VNO Wine Warehouse didn’t offer takeout during the first shut-down last spring, but Kimbrue says they will this time. “When we got shut down in March, this restaurant, we chose not to open up for take-out food because we have mostly families who work here,” Kimbrue says. This time, though the restaurant and wine shop will continue to offer the same limited menu it has since early June.

Area restaurants are switching to take-out menus and altering their hours to comply with the latest COVID-19 restrictions.He says although the latest executive order wasn’t unexpected, “when we reopened on June 10 we were hoping we’d never have to do this again.”

Kimbrue adds customers will still be able to come inside to shop for wine. Since COVID-19 hit, wine sales in the United States are on the increase, says Kimbrue, adding, “We’re more of a wine shop and now more than ever.”

Local restaurants are encouraging customers to order take-out meals during the pause in indoor dining.On the other side of Midland Street, Brooklyn Boyz Pizza owner Kevin Novellino says he learned some things from the earlier shutdown. He also says he was the current shutdown coming and was already making plans.

During the earlier shutdown, Brooklyn Boyz, 507 E. Midland St., offered a limited take-out menu and delivery through third parties such as GrubHub and UberEats. He plans to continue that for the time being, but will add his own delivery service as well.

Curbside pick-up and delivery services are available to minimize contact while COVID-19 surges in the state.“We’ve added an in-house delivery service, too, because with the volume the third party delivery can’t keep up,” he says. “It’s all about the customer,” and making sure they can get the food quickly and easily is what will make the difference for Brooklyn Boyz over the next several weeks.

Novellino says they’re also offering a curbside pick-up option, where diners will be able to pull up in front of the building with identifiable markers for lining up. Drivers will call the restaurant, tell them they’re in line, and food will be brought out to the vehicle. The option is still available to pick up orders inside, but he wants to make pick up as convenient as possible.

Customers can come inside VNOs to shop for wine. Brooklyn Boyz also opted to go with a new online ordering system that lets diners order and pay for their food without leaving home. Orders can be placed through the website, “then you can call when you’re out front and get in line for curbside pick-up,” Novellino says. The ordering system should make it easier for staff and diners alike.

Greg Kimbrue, owner of VNOs, encourages people to continue supporting local businesses during the three-week pause.One of the biggest changes Novellino plans is cutting hours. He says over the past few months they did an audit of past sales. “We figured out that 95% of our business was between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.,” he says, so paring back hours and menu items makes sense. Instead of opening at 11 a.m., the restaurant will be open at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, staying open later in the evening on Friday and Saturday.

“This trickles down and hurts all of us ... It will all work out, and hopefully everything will be open and back to normal soon,'

- Vince Stuart, owner of Vinnie's Stockpot and Uptown Grille

Novellino says he’s also limiting menu options. “Some things just don’t deliver well,” he says, and those items that are best served in-house may not be available for the time being.

But whether it is takeout and delivery, or the restaurant is back open for indoor dining, Novellino says he plans to continue serving the made-from-scratch favorites “because I love cooking like that.”

Greg Kimbrue of VNOs says wine sales have risen since COVID-19 arrived.Some restaurants will close temporarily during this latest wave of the pandemic. Vince Stuart, owner of Vinnie’s Stockpot, 1007 Washington Ave., and Uptown Grille, 3 E. Main St., says with limited business downtown, the Stockpot will close for at least three weeks. He says it’s disappointing because it puts a hardship on people who will be laid off.

“It’s unfortunate,” he says, “this trickles down and hurts all of us.”

Even before the pandemic, VNOs stocked a wide variety of wines. While he will be offering take-out at Uptown Grille, he will have to lay off as many as 20 employees from the two restaurants.

He’s concerned for his customers, but also his employees who will face the upcoming holiday season with smaller paychecks. “It will all work out, and hopefully everything will be open and back to normal soon,” he says, optimistically.

For many restaurants, November and December are the busiest months of the year.Stuart says Uptown Grille will be open for take-out over the next three weeks but will have limited hours. He says during peak breakfast and lunchtimes diners will be able to order ahead for pick-up. Diners can place orders online through the website.

Each of the owners looks forward to the day when they can invite diners back inside.

'We've made it this far, and we're not going anywhere,' says Greg Kimbrue, who owns VNOs.“We’ve made it this far, and we’re not going anywhere,” says Kimbrue, and by we, he means all of the local restaurant owners. “There’s just another bump in the road to overcome, is probably the best way to look at it.”

As a whole, Kimbrue says he’s looking at this as a glass half full situation and encourages people to continue supporting local restauranteurs.

Greg Kimbrue wears a mask while posting notes that explain what to expect from the wines on his shelves.“All of us are in this together, a lot of good hardworking families, and people that are in there every day, and they’re not going to let this put them out of business. Hopefully, all of us will be stronger than ever in the near future.”