The community continues to adapt to a restaurant market which has seen dine-in service shut down across the board by COVID-19.
Pete’s Steakhouse takes pride in its artisan application of Greek cuisine inspired by the recipes of the Tsamolias family and the professional training and creativity of owner/executive chef, Niko. It has always delivered these qualities in its Commercial Street Mall dining room, but that is not an option now, and there’s no telling how long that will last. Like other eateries, Pete’s is now all about curbside service, takeout and deliveries.
Pete’s Steakhouse has been open since 1980 and is still churning out orders during this global happening. A month prior to the closures of multiple businesses, Niko set up a delivery system that ended up being actually what he needed during this unprecedented time.
“It’s not the greatest, but I think I got a big enough jump start on the delivery system and carry out that I think I might’ve got a little bit ahead of it than most people,” Tsamolias said. “Hindsight is 20-20. I think it’ll keep us afloat until this blows over.”
On the Missouri side, there has been more of a mixed bag. Corner Café of Liberty temporarily shut down after a disappointing experiment with a curbside/delivery/takeout business model. Now it is a matter of waiting to see what happens with the pandemic.
“(There is) a fear of not knowing if you are going to have a job to go to,” said Amber Wyatt, a waitress at the cafe. “When the decision was made to go curbside, yes, this gave some opportunity to work. Some chose not to out of fear some because they have spouses with income. Some of those people only did that to give others less fortunate a chance to work.”
Not having customers in the place also produced feelings of loneliness.
“I think when the restaurant closed down, it created a lot of anxiety,” Wyatt said. “I’m still worried about the weeks to come up with the money we have if work will open back up. The way the restaurant was empty all day was very eerie, and honestly, kinda sad. Only seeing people outside made me feel like a carhop again.”
Kansas’s stay-at-home order hasn’t done Pete’s any favors, but it hasn’t put the restaurant down. Despite Gov. Laura Kelly’s decision, Tsamolias’s new system has kept business somewhat alive.
“It helps a little bit,” Tsamolias said. “I wouldn’t say it’s anything too drastic, but it’s definitely helped a little bit. Nothing has really spiked or taken off, but it’s helped us allocate enough money over to keep our doors open and the lights until this coronavirus thing goes bye-bye.”
Even with all the chaos going on in the world right now, Tsamolias has kept his wits about him when it comes to running his steakhouse. Tsamolias is able to keep this attitude even when business is down on certain days.
“I’ve kept a level head,” Tsamolias said. “I don’t tend to freak out. That doesn’t really do anything to help the initial problem. There are some days when it’s slower than others. I got some days when we’re pumping out maybe 25 orders a day, and some others are 40-50, sometimes 60. It’s definitely a dive when compared to what we were doing with our dine-in service.”
Tsamolias encourages his employees to wash their hands every time they interact with something. Whenever delivery drivers do go out, Tsamolias sends them with disinfectant wipes to help clean on everything they interact with.
“Health is more important than the water bill,” Tsamolias said. “Just keep your hands clean constantly. Obviously you can’t put a sink in your car; hand sanitizer only does so much, but there’s not none of that left anymore. I tried to find some at Walmart the other day — just a little bottle — and they were sold out.”
Tsamolias still had to shut down the eatery when the breakout first occurred. This meant most of his employees’ statuses were also shut down for three works, according to Tsamolias.
“When I shut it down at first, I pretty much laid everybody off,” Tsamolias said. “Then I switched gears, and I was like, ‘Ok, I can’t put people out of work,’ so I allocated some resources to them like Kansas was offering, unemployment and whatnot. I told them all, ‘I will try to put you guys back to work, but just let me figure out a plan on how to do it.’”
That plan included the delivery and takeout system, something other restaurants have incorporated into their workload.
“Sure enough, I did,” Tsamolias said. “I’m bringing people into two-three people teams during morning and night. Most of my staff is now back working. It’s very limited hours. It’s four, five, maybe six hours a day, but at least they have some sort of income for their bills to pay, because I’m not gonna just put people out of work.”
Tsamolias estimates his steakhouse will be open again around July. At Corner Café, the shutdown will last through at least April 30.
“It was a completely different world when things actually got serious, and no one could enter the building,” said a coworker of Wyatt’s, Coleen McKinney. “Half the lights are off; it’s quiet. It’s all weird. You can’t hug your regulars or sit and talk to them.”