By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
ONEONTA – At Brooks House of BBQ, the staff can’t answer the phones fast enough.
“We’re going to add additional phone lines,” said owner Ryan Brooks. “They’re just ringing constantly.
With Governor Cuomo’s order that all “non-essential” businesses be shuttered, restaurants can no longer accommodate dine-in customers.
“When the quarantines started happening last week, I walked into work and there were no customers coming in,” said Brian Wrubleski, who owns Mel’s at 22, Cooperstown. “It was like someone took something out of my heart.”
Some, like Morey’s and The Depot in Oneonta, the Doubleday Café in Cooperstown and Jackie’s in Milford, simply closed.
Many others, including Mel’s, Brooks, Council Rock Brewery and The Otesaga’s Hawkeye Grill have quickly adapted to take-out and delivery.
“I don’t think a lot of people know which restaurants are open,” said Council Rock’s Becky Davidson. “But it’s always nice to see some friendly faces.”
Take-out isn’t new to Brooks, but the spread of COVID-19 prompted Ryan to move up his plan to add delivery. “We want to help get people the food they want,” he said. “We deliver within a 10-mile radius with no fee, but it’s a $20 minimum order.”
In addition to the company vans – a frequent sight around the county in the summer – Ryan put his own SUV up for delivery. “The crew is having fun in my car,” he said.
Some, like John Shideler, The Otesaga’s new general manager, are finding ways to add new offerings to their “to-go” menu. “We’ve added a grilled salmon so we have a fish offering,” he said. “And we’re absolutely still offering our desserts: We have a new apple cinnamon bread pudding.”
The response, he said, has been strong. “We’re a favorite in the community,” he said. “The community has been so welcoming to me, and we want our customers to feel comfort knowing that we’re still here.”
“We’ve been doing take-out all along with our fish fry, so we had a busy Friday,” said Davidson. “And I posted on Facebook to let people know that our shrimp and garlic pesto fries are still available, so people know they can still get their favorites.”
“It’s a different methodology,” said Wrubleski. “With dine-in, it’s a full-service interaction with the customer. You make the meal look beautiful on the plate. But we’re trying to make it look beautiful in the take-out box too.”
Although face-to-face interaction has been minimized, he’s still finding new ways to interact with his customers. “I do most of the deliveries myself,” he said. “We include two free cookies with every order, and my daughter Alex writes a little message on every one of the boxes.”
Similarly, The Otesaga is including a card from the staff with each order. “When we re-open, they can bring it to The Hawkeye or The 1909 and get a free glass of wine,” said Shideler. “It’s our way of saying thank you to all the people who are supporting us through these difficult times.”
And Wrubleski is concerned about the employees he had to temporarily lay off. “It’s depressing,” he said. “A lot of people in this industry live paycheck-to-paycheck, and I’m trying to support them as best I can.”
In addition to delivery and manning phones, Ryan has shifted some employees to the bottling plant to keep them on payroll. “These are tough times, but we’ll get through them together,” he said.
“Food is comfort,” said Wrubleski. “We like to try and do things to make people happy.”