It was a quiet day in Cloverdale on Monday, March 16, as residents paid more attention to staying home and businesses began implementing policies surrounding social distancing.
On March 15, Governor Gavin Newsom announced in a press conference that all wineries, breweries and clubs had to close their doors until further notice in an effort to flatten the curve of COVID-19 spread. For restaurants, Newsom said that business owners had to reduce maximum occupancy by 50% and arrange the layout of their eateries in a way that encourages social distancing.
When Mike Nixon, owner of Papa’s Pizza, came back to his shop after listening to Newsom’s press conference, he walked into an open bar full of understanding individuals.
“Absolutely everyone was understanding. Everybody finished off their beers,” and then left, Nixon said in an interview on March 16. “They were happy, they knew that we were going to still be able to be there for them.”
Sunday afternoon Nixon announced through Papa’s’ social media pages that the pizzeria would continue to stay open for take-out or delivery, but wouldn’t be accepting dine-in customers. A visual representation of the decision, the dining chairs have all been stacked upside down on the tables, with large plastic sheets covering everything.
“For us, I think that first of all in Cloverdale we’re isolated as it is. We’ve always been fairly fortunate that we’re one of the picks, but there’s not a lot of places (to eat),” Nixon said.
Next door to Papa’s, MoE’s Eagles Nest Deli eliminated tables on the floor and at their bar counter to comply with the required 50% of seating. They also added a line of black tape six feet away from the ordering counter, to show patrons what the social distancing recommendation looks like.
“What we’re bracing for is that this is going to be a long-term thing,” said Monique Evans, owner of MoE’s Eagles Nest Deli. “Just like with the fires, you don’t know what’s going to happen. We’re in the process right now of upgrading our system. We’re just hoping that the customers will stay with us.”
On the evening of March 16, the California Department of Health announced a recommendation that restaurants “should be closed for in-restaurant seated dining and should be open only to drive-through or other pick-up/delivery options.”
Evans said that the MoE’s plans on being open for pick-up orders. They’re also looking at getting delivery capabilities, but are still looking into insurance and protocol.
The impact of the virus has compounded with that of the recent fires, and local businesses are feeling the strain.
“We have not recovered from the first three fires and we are just doing what we can to reduce everything,” Evans said, adding that they also saw a dramatic increase in the cost of tomatoes this past winter, which put an unexpected wrench in the deli’s operating costs.
“Everything is going up, on top of this,” she said. “It’s been really hard to catch up from the fire, to catch up from the last two years on top of trying to run a business. Even though this has been established for a long time, we have been trying our best to make it so (the business) is smooth sailing on its own. This is just putting us that much farther behind the ball.”
“We’re doing our darndest and our best to keep things afloat, but it’s definitely been a struggle,” Evans said.
A bright spot for Evans is operating her business in Cloverdale.
“We have beautiful, wonderful customers,” she said, noting that community support can make a big impact on a business.
Across the street, Cloverdale’s Trading Post closed its doors on Monday morning.
“In the beginning we were on the fence about what we should do and then we came to the decision that the only responsible thing for us to do is just close completely,” said Ron Ferrato, general manager.
One of the things that cemented the Trading Post’s decision to close for the time being was watching the government closures happening around California.
“We just feel that eventually it would have been us anyway,” Ferrato said, adding that the Post has tried to find jobs around the restaurant for staff to do to give them hours while they’re closed, but that “it’s going to be tough — a lot of them rely on tips.”
Ferrato said that the Post is brainstorming ways it can serve the community during this time by either delivering or offering grab and go meals where no person-to-person interaction is limited, with distance between people. For now, though, everything is up in the air.
“I’m glad that certain places are able to deliver, I think that’s fantastic,” Ferrato said. “We’re hoping we can find something that works for us.”
Plank Coffee also limited their seating on Monday, and put together signs with specific requests for customers — asking them to use cards so cashiers don’t have to touch cash, asking patrons to limit the time they spend in the shop, as well as other requests. Anticipating a shelter in place order from the county, Plank switched up its interior again on March 17, putting stuff on top of tables so folks couldn’t sit down with their coffee or food. Just before press time, on March 18, Plank closed its doors and said that it would reopen as soon as it is safe.
They are, however, working on an online ordering and delivery service.
“What we’re working on currently is an online ordering portal so people can do their orders online. The goal is a delivery service, hopefully soon, where we’re not using any sort of Grub Hub (business) — we want to utilize our staff whenever we can to do this. We’ll hopefully have a delivery service up and running as soon as possible,” said Marne Dupere, co-owner of Plank.
They’re also planning to put a menu up online that features larger items that can serve as meals, like lasagna.
“We’re doing a catering menu where people can pre-order things like a lasagna or a full spinach quiche,” she said. “We’ll have a bunch of take-and-bake things like our house-made scones or our hand pies. We will be able to have those frozen items for people where we’ll be able to deliver them.”
Plank has seen a dramatic drop in sales over the past few days — a couple of days ago, sales were down 10% to 15%, Dupere said. As of Tuesday morning, they had dropped to around 50%.
“We all have to really help each other in this time, this is really not good for the restaurant industry. I’m hoping we can all kind of rally together,” Dupere said. “Let’s hope we get through this sooner than later — and safely.”
“This is impacting our local businesses, our restaurants, our mom and pops, it’s impacting everybody,” said Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce Director Neena Hanchett in response to what she’s heard from businesses since the announcement.
Hanchett said that while the chamber tried to survey businesses Monday morning, the ever-changing nature of the situation surrounding COVID-19 made it so that as soon as surveys were completed, they were no longer accurate.
For now, Hanchett said that the chamber’s main goal is proliferating county and state information to local businesses. They’ll do that primarily through the chamber’s newsletter and Facebook page, she said.
Straying from food service, as of press time both The Clover Theater and Bolt Fabric + Home announced that they were closing for the foreseeable future.
One big unknown —perhaps the biggest unknown — echoed by all three of the restaurants was what the future holds.
“Obviously this is a fluid type of thing,” Nixon said. “The governor may say next that they're going to close us all and I wouldn’t be surprised. It is what it is and we’ll try to make the best of it.”
At its core though, even in times of crisis, Cloverdale is a community of people that come together. Papa’s, MoE’s and the Trading Post were all in similar situations during October’s Kincade Fire — during which local restaurants opened and served food amidst a power shutoff, donated food to be cooked by service groups or cooked it outside and gave it away so community members were fed.
“Cloverdale is known for taking care of each other and that’s not going to change,” Hanchett said. “What that looks like in two weeks, in three weeks, it’s everybody’s guess.”