Over a two-week span, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered people’s livelihoods worldwide, and the Kansas State and Manhattan communities are no exception.
For restaurants, grocery stores and coffee shops, the pandemic has created unprecedented roadblocks for serving customers. After Riley County’s first identified positive case of COVID-19 (later relabeled as a Pottawatomie County case), the county prohibited dine-in services at restaurants, effective from March 22 until at least April 4.
With a nationwide emphasis on social distancing, Manhattan’s food businesses are exploring methods for offering their products while keeping customers and staff safe during the outbreak.
Under Riley County’s order, restaurants can offer drive-through, pick-up/carryout and delivery service. Eateries like Arrow Coffee Co. are delving into these new business practices. Arrow co-owner Ben Motley said that, early on, he needed to start thinking about serving customers in safe ways.
“We immediately started doing online ordering,” Motley said. “At first it was: You can place your order, and then we’ll have it ready for you when you get here, and we can either bring it out to your car, or you can just come grab it from the bar.”
On March 16, Motley said, Arrow began offering delivery in Manhattan, expanding on its online ordering system. Arrow’s online store offers its usual lineup of coffee and food products, with new additions like Pool House drink mixers and bread. The company’s catering division has also started offering bulk, family-style meals like lasagna and enchiladas.
“The thought there is you don’t have to go to the grocery store, you don’t have to meal prep,” Motley said. “Order from us, we’ll drive to your house, drop it off and then you can eat it, bake it at your own convenience.”
Part of Arrow’s mission is to make people happy, Motley said, as the staff continues to offer food and drink services in new ways. To promote its delivery option, the coffee shop is posting videos on Instagram called “Baristas in Cars Delivering Coffee.”
A riff on Jerry Seinfeld’s web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Motley said the idea came from wanting to promote Arrow’s delivery service in a fun way.
“What has become of it that’s been really great is it’s been a great way to introduce our staff to our customers, to get a little look behind the curtain,” Motley said, “and connecting our community one step further.”
Grocery stores are exempt from the county’s public gatherings ban, but the Asian Market has shifted its business practices in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Fanny Fang, Asian Market owner and K-State graduate student in counseling services, said the store has shortened its open hours to restock and properly disinfect the store and implemented policy that restricts the amount of rice customers can purchase at one time.
“For now the limit is 25 pounds per customer,” Fang said. “We had to do that because there was a huge influx of customers overnight — literally overnight — [from] surrounding areas, Junction City, Fort Riley, Wamego, Topeka even. All were flocking to my store because we were the only store left with rice.”
Over the past week, the Asian Market has kept its Facebook page updated with the details of its rice purchasing limit and when the store will receive rice shipments. In addition, Fang said they are limiting the amount of customers in the store at a time to eight people. Employees wear gloves and masks while also disinfecting carts and baskets after each use.
Fang said most customers have been understanding of the Asian Market’s new procedures. One point of concern for Fang, however, is racism against Asian-Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic. She cited President Trump’s use of the term “Chinese virus” and Riley County Commission Chairman Marvin Rodriguez’s comments about Manhattan’s Chinese population at the March 18 special county meeting.
The Asian Market has hired security guards, Fang said, to keep customers and employees safe and enforce the eight-person limit.
“We are quite aware that someone can walk into our store and hurt any of us, my customers, my employees,” Fang said. “We’ve had to get extra security on site to ensure that anybody who comes in, anybody who works with us or for us are as safe as we can possibly be.”
Despite the circumstances, Fang said she decided to keep the Asian Market’s doors open for now, as a pivot to online ordering and delivery could impact the store’s customers.
“We are very well aware that there are many of our customers who are older, who are unfamiliar with some technology, who may not be fluent in English,” Fang said. “There’s a lot of barriers for a good amount of our customers to get access to our products.”
In an unprecedented time of barriers and challenges for small businesses, places like Arrow Coffee Co. and the Asian Market have adjusted their practices to keep serving the Manhattan community. Motley said he feels “blessed to be part of this business community” and the larger community of Manhattan.
“We are looking forward to getting through this all together and having a big party where we can all hug each other when this is all done,” Motley said.