Supporting South Bend Restaurants During the Pandemic

Author: Emma Koster

Supporting South Bend Restaurants During the Pandemic

Dreams for a bigger kitchen and redecorated interior dining space still exist but have been put on the back burner. People comment on the work the restaurant needs, and Dont’e Shaw simply takes it in stride. He’s aware of the necessary renovations, he even had them planned out, but when you open your restaurant in the middle of a global pandemic, most plans have to be changed. Pandemic living has made so many things impossible and other things so anxiety-ridden that other alternatives have to be sought out instead. As hard as it may be for their customers, local restaurants are adapting and surviving the daunting challenges that have been thrown their way. Shaw, owner and executive chef of Bantam Chicken and Seafood, and Jonathan Lutz, owner of Uptown Kitchen spoke about the way the pandemic has affected them and provided some advice on how we can support them as community members and patrons during these difficult times. 

The CDC has issued a number of considerations for restaurants and bars if you needed an idea of the additional measures restaurants need to implement in their already rapid paced, high intensity work space. Things as simple as visibly posted signs to enforce mask-wearing and social distancing to more complicated assurances like “improving the engineering controls using the building ventilation system.” Largely affecting these businesses is the requirements of reduced capacity. At Uptown Kitchen, indoor capacity is just over 50% and Lutz took the extra precaution of physically measuring out six feet between every table in the restaurant when they were able to reopen for limited indoor dining in May. 

Lutz said that sales are down about 40% and although he feels fortunate that they’ve had enough business that they haven’t had to reduce staff and have been able to get their bills paid, there is no debate that Uptown Kitchen is feeling the strain of the pandemic. Lutz noted that it was especially challenging to come off a number of record-setting years for the business into this current situation. 

Shaw feels the strain as well. He and his business partner, Josh Pola, opened their new restaurant in the midst of the pandemic. Even as investors withdrew their support, Shaw and Pola decided to continue moving forward with their plans, adjusting to what they were able to do in the new circumstances. Despite the apparent hardship, Shaw maintained a message of incredible positivity and humility, stressing the importance of uplifting his team at the restaurant. 

For those looking to support local restaurants at this critical time, Lutz and Shaw both expressed a desire to see students in their restaurants and Lutz said he’d “strongly suggest people support locally owned businesses,” over large chains. 

Requests for kindness, respect and patience were huge takeaways from these conversations as well. 

It is understandable if you’re not comfortable supporting a restaurant by eating inside, but if you do choose to sit down around a restaurant table, remember to be kind. Anxiety is heightened for so many and sometimes hunger can bring out an angry side of us, but Shaw asks for patience when you step inside. 

Many restaurant staff members are working overtime, doing more jobs than usual, pitching in in areas of the restaurant they never have before and receiving less money for it because of less customers coming in. Shaw said that when he goes into restaurants now to eat himself his first thought is “Take your time! Food can only cook so fast.” 

Lutz also stresses the importance of humanity. The pandemic has made him realize more clearly the necessity of seeing people first and treating everyone with grace. “Even if you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a Notre Dame student or a restaurant employee, we are all human beings and we should treat each other with kindness and respect,” Lutz said.