On March 6, Taste of Belgium had 262 employees. On Monday, after two solid weeks of coronavirus fears that evolved into precautionary shutdowns and new government restrictions, the well-loved Cincinnati chain had fewer than 20.
“The goal is for us to rehire everyone” when the pandemic subsides, owner Jean-Francois Flechet said. “We’re thinking if we can stay open for carryout, then it will make the transition back to full service easier because we don’t have to go through a company shutdown.”
But COVID-19, spread primarily through close interpersonal contact, has been uniquely devastating to the restaurant industry and the 15.6 million Americans who work within it. State governors’ orders for people to stay at home and for restaurants to stop dining-room service have driven down traffic, forcing businesses like Flechet’s to make sharp left turns to stay open.
Layoffs were the start of it. He’s also pared down Taste of Belgium’s menu to better fit Ohio’s new carryout-only policy — only the most popular items and the ones that travel well got to stay. Burgers, sandwiches and waffles are still in; mussels, escargot and crepes of all kinds are out.
“Moving forward, we will most likely add a few family items so we can feed an entire family at once,” Flechet said.
He’s also found ways to make his restaurant’s beers and cocktails more mobile: By sealing them inside crowlers, large 32-ounce cans that can be filled from a tap, safely sealed and taken home. If you’re craving a Taste of Belgium mimosa in the age of COVID-19, you can still get it.
You can also order online, get curb-side pickup, or have orders of Belgian waffles delivered to your home for free on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, as long as the order itself is over $30.
Flechet said he’s grateful for the amount of support longtime customers have shown for his restaurant in the days since the pandemic began.
“Overall everyone has been very supportive,” he said. “From everyone on my team to our guests. People have been buying gift cards online. They made the point to come here and get beers and bags of waffles.”
With no end in sight, he and other local restaurant owners will need support like that to keep their businesses alive for the rest of the year.
“It has been surreal and things are really changing by the day,” he said. “We’ve been trained to adapt and do whatever we can to stay open and keep a few people employed.”
This story is part of a new WCPO series: We're Open, Cincinnati! We want to highlight small, local businesses that remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic and tell our viewers how to help keep them that way. Click here to submit your business to make sure Cincinnati knows it's still open.