Huddle House closed, winery and resort still operating

    Three Rivers Publishing reached out to numerous restaurant owners in the area to see how COVID-19 has impacted their businesses. This is the second week we are publishing some of their responses. Watch for more in the coming weeks.



HUDDLE HOUSE
    Huddle House, in Cuba, was initially open when social distancing requirements began, but was later forced to temporarily close.
    “We started noticing a decline of business on March 18,” said owner Angie Britton. “For the next five days we were down almost 40 percent. We had to cut hours for most of our employees, working with a skeleton crew. We received the order to close our dining room effective March 23. From that point, the majority of our staff was laid off.”
    Huddle House then offered carry-out, curbside pickup and delivery from March 23 through March 30, but sales declined almost 90 percent. During that time the restaurant was still offering its full menu, along with family meals to go.
    “We appreciate all customers who supported us during this time, but our sales were just not sustainable for business to cover payroll, utilities, and many other bills,” said Britton. “We had to make the tough decision to close the restaurant temporarily until we can fully re-open. We were also concerned about the safety of our employees and customers and the possible exposure risk.”
    Huddle House was operating with a staff of about 25, but currently all hourly employees are laid off.
    “We are very concerned about our employees and want to get them back to work as soon as possible,” said Britton. “When we closed, we offered food to our employees—eggs, produce, milk etc. We are glad that many of our employees came and took what they could use.”
    Huddle House has applied for an Economic Injury Disaster Loan and the Payroll Protection Program from the Small Business Administration.
    “If we get any of those funds, they will be instrumental in helping us re-hire staff, pay bills, and hopefully provide us the boost we need to survive this economic downturn,” Britton said. “Another concern is that once we re-open, we may continue to see reduced business due to general public fear. We hope we're wrong, but we have to be prepared for that in the coming months and any funds we get will help us maintain during that time.”
    Britton said the restaurant’s customers have been very supportive and are eager to see Huddle House get back open.
    “We are praying that we can reopen by May 1, or shortly thereafter,” she said. “We have talked to most local restaurant operators from Cuba and surrounding communities as well as fellow Huddle House franchisees and all of us are hurting right now and just hoping to rebound once the stay-at-home order is lifted. Many of our vendors have been very helpful by deferring payments until we can get back to business as usual.”
    As a franchise, Huddle House rolled out the “Family Meals to Go,” which the Cuba restaurant will keep once it reopens.
    “The company is also in the process of offering online ordering through the Huddle House App and plans to have that up and going by the time we reopen,” said Britton. “We hope to be able to continue offering local delivery, but that will be contingent on staffing levels.”
    Britton said she wants the public to know that Huddle House has been extensively cleaned and sanitized and that, once the restaurant reopens, staff members will operate using procedures to sanitize all surfaces that employees and customers come into contact with.
    “Our employees will be given additional training to ensure that these procedures are being followed. We want our customers to feel comfortable dining out again,” said Britton. “With this being our 18th year in business, so many of our customers have become like family to us and our employees. I know they are genuinely missed.”

MERAMEC VINEYARDS
    Meramec Vineyards Winery continues to remain open, providing their menu with curbside pickup, but there have been many changes to how it operates due to COVID-19.
    The store remains open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., providing full menu carryout. However, staffing has been affected by the pandemic. “We had eight (employees) before and now two,” co-owner Joe Boulware explained. Since the start of the pandemic, business revenues are down “50 percent,” Boulware said.
    To help with the costs of operation, Boulware said Meramec Vineyards has applied for the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. This has allowed the business to continue serving the public in as normal a manner as possible.
    “We continue to get reviews on our delicious food, drinks, and service with a smile. We are grateful for the reviews and happy that our food tastes just as good as dining in,” Boulware said. “We will continue to adapt quickly and do what is necessary to ensure our customers’ health and safety. We will continue to come out with fun new menu items until we can get back to hosting guests onsite.”

RAFTING COMPANY
    The Rafting Company’s Gourmet Sandwich Shop & Sports Pub is open and offers a variety of lightly smoked meats, hot wings, and pizza.
    The restaurant portion of the resort business is open Monday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Friday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. The full menu, which can be found on Facebook and on the TRC website at theraftingco.com, is available for carryout, curbside service, or delivery. Call 573-775-2628 to place an order.
    Owner Paul Wilkerson reported they have reduced staff from four to two, and have provided food and other assistance to those no longer working for them. He estimates the business has lost 80 percent of its revenue since the pandemic closures began—including income usually realized through the restaurant, bar, and campground on site.
    He has applied for government assistance through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program to help get through this period.
    Wilkerson said he has received positive feedback from the public, including encouragement to “keep your head up” and “stay strong,” along with thanks for remaining open, and praise for the food itself.
    Wilkerson said they plan to continue to operate, but added, “It’s not going to be easy. We need community support. This year is The Rafting Company’s 35th anniversary. We had several things planned but with what’s going on, we’re not sure if we will be able to do much of what we had hoped. Currently, we’re focusing on getting enough take-outs and deliveries to just pay the bills. Anything to keep the food businesses going would be greatly appreciated.”

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