Red Deer’s TacoLoft had only been open a week downtown when COVID-19 health restrictions hit.
Not being able to offer sit-down dining hardly seemed a recipe for early success, but co-owners and chefs Michael Ubbing and Todd Lawrence improvised and their fledgling eatery flourished.
“Takeout was always in mind here; we just had to speed up the process a bunch,” said Ubbing on Wednesday.
“We were insane, during COVID for a while there. We were having a tough time keeping up, especially with having the growing pains of a new business that opened a week before the world changed.”
They responded by offering taco kits, so people could make their own at home. A Taco Tuesday meal deal also was a big hit.
“Cinco de Mayo was more insane than we ever could have anticipated — doing a week of sales in three hours.”
Like all restaurants, they are limited for now to 50 per cent dining capacity — which for them is 15 seats, instead of the 30 that would normally be available at their second-floor restaurant at 4926 Ross St.
Ubbing said while the takeout business has dropped dramatically in recent days, the traffic has been good since they opened for dining last week and more closely reflects what their business plan projections were.
He looks forward as, no doubt all restaurateurs do, to limits on seating and other restrictions being relaxed further when it’s safe to do so.
The Canadian Brewhouse has been open for two weeks and the customers were back in force right away.
“We’ve been super busy,” said general manager Ty Malcomson. “People have been so happy to be out.
“People have been generous. They’ve been tipping a lot to the girls, because the girls have to do a lot of these safety procedures as well.
“It’s pretty rough on them. They’ve got to wear masks all day and they’re out in the sun. All that kind of stuff.”
Malcomson said there have been a few challenges. Some customers, not aware of the interruptions to the supply chain many restaurants are facing, grumble that certain menu items are not available.
“We are working at getting things and changing specials around and things like that, he said. “Once you explain it to (customers), they’re fine.
“The hardest thing is keeping people separate. When you’ve been locked up for a couple of months, once you’re out and about and have had a couple of drinks, you want to socialize.”
Another wrinkle for a sports bar is the absence of hockey, baseball and other activities that ran continuously on the many TVs. Premier League soccer from Britain and golf events have helped fill the gap.
“Now, the hockey is starting in July. They’re doing a round robin in July, so that’s great for us as a business, especially being a sports bar.
“We really rely on a lot of those kinds of things, especially Oilers games. Oilers versus Calgary, we’re always really busy.”
Once restrictions are lifted further, and people can sit at the bar again, he expects to see another big surge.
“I think the business is going to boom, and you’ll start to seeing the economy back again a bit. That’s definitely what we need right now.”
At Brown’s Social House, customers also did not wait long to return once restrictions were eased.
“It’s been going good,” said general manager Greg Reid. “We’ve obviously got some physical distancing measures in place, but we’ve had good feedback from the guests.
“I think people are still cautious and definitely a little more wary than they used to be.
“We haven’t run into too many challenges. For us, it was probably just the heavier takeout volume we saw. We’re just not built for takeout.”
Now that the restaurant is open for seating, takeout business has gone down, although it is still heavier than it was pre-pandemic.
Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce CEO Rick More said he’s heard that restaurants have had such a good response, many diners are facing waits to get in.
Lines have formed outside other stores as well.
“Retail sales vary depending on products sold, but in some cases, there are anywhere from 10-minute to hour-long waits to enter the store.”
For some, staffing has been an issue.
“It hasn’t been a quick on-off switch to regain employees for their services, considering all the government payouts,” he said.
Overall, customers are happy to be back and appreciate the safety measures stores and their staff are taking, he said.