Flagstaff’s restaurants quite literally give “flavor” to our community. They play important roles as employers and are vital not only to our tourism sector, but as a part of the everyday quality of life we enjoy here as residents.
That’s evident by the loyalty our community and local leaders have shown to restaurants during COVID-19. You could find long lines for takeout at many establishments and increased requests for deliveries.
But even with that support, the road to recovery for this sector has been, as one restaurateur put it, “slow and stressful.”
Most local eateries have been operating at somewhere between 25 percent and 50 percent of capacity, offering slimmed down menus and reduced hours, with some only open during the weekends.
While restrictions are slowly lifting and dining-in options return, these businesses still face many challenges in this new era.
“Things like cutting recipes in half or thirds, dealing with supply chain shortages and drastic price increases on our most expensive items (proteins) – it’s really just rethinking 75% or more of our daily operations,” said Jamie Thousand, owner of Satchmo’s, which recently started serving food on site in its patio on the weekends.
Extra take out sales have helped Pita Jungle supplement fewer dine-in customers, according to General Manager Rich Thompson, but he expressed concern that COVID-19 would lead to a loss of community cohesion.
“I think as a community we were all growing closer and now with COVID, we have had to pull away,” he said. “I feel like it is hurting the overall camaraderie that I love so much about this small community.”
From these hardships, however, a stronger commitment by restaurateurs to support each other has emerged, according to Thousand. Owners of bars and eateries are talking to each other more often, exchanging ideas, trouble shooting problems together and partnering when they can.
As the recovery continues, leaders at the local and national level are looking for ways of bolstering the industry.
Recently, a proposal from Downtown Business Alliance proposed closing down certain streets during the summer – or using alleys and parking lots – to allow retailers and restaurants to have more outdoor space to conduct business.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers introduced a bill last month to help restaurants and feed vulnerable populations during the pandemic. The FEMA Empowering Essential Deliveries or FEED Act would have the federal government pay 100 percent of the costs for state and local governments to work with restaurants and nonprofits to prepare meals for populations, including seniors and underprivileged children.
We encourage our readers to make a point of patronizing our local restaurants safely and responsibly during this uncertain time. It’s not only the smart thing to do for our economic vitality – it’s delicious too.