Manhattan restaurants adapt to changing regulations, continue serving the public

Dealing with strict local health orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 transmission locally, restaurants and bars have adapted their services to continue serving the community. (Archive Photo by Kate Torline | Collegian Media Group

As COVID-19 cases continue to emerge in the greater Manhattan area, business structures have been shifting to accommodate customers in constantly changing times.

Two Aggieville restaurants, Taco Lucha and So Long Saloon have recently felt the effects of the pandemic on the way they operate.

The businesses share a building and kitchen, and both temporarily closed their doors in June after staff members came into contact with a person who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

After a short hiatus from providing Aggieville regulars with tacos and margaritas, they reopened to the public on July 7 and have been operating since.

Travis Worrel, general manager of So Long Saloon and Taco Lucha, said while a closure is never ideal, it provided a chance for staff to regroup and adjust to the changing regulations on food establishments.

“We used that time to do a deep clean and get some stuff done that we couldn’t do while we were open,” he said.

Worrel said while the health department recommended neither business shut down, management decided it was best to “stay out in front” of the situation relating to COVID-19.

A month after the temporary closure, Worrel said both So Long Saloon and Taco Lucha are still feeling the effects on business.

“Some customers don’t seem to care, but it’s taking a long time for some to come back,” Worrel said.

Moving forward, Worrel said it’s going to be important for both businesses to continue to adapt and get out ahead of potential problems.

“I joke with the staff that the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes,” Worrel said. “We’re trying to be forward thinkers in this whole thing.”

Public information officer for the city of Manhattan Vivienne Uccello, said businesses’ willingness to adopt a flexible mindset during the pandemic has been encouraging.

“I commend local businesses for adapting and changing to protect the community,” Uccello said. “I know it hasn’t been easy, and I appreciate all of their efforts.”

Across Moro Street from So Long Saloon and Taco Lucha, Abby Ruder, sophomore in psychology and economics, works as a barista at Bluestem Bistro.

Ruder and her coworkers begin every shift by taking their temperatures and recording any symptoms they’re experiencing.

“Our employees have been very comfortable with the changes,” Ruder said. “I haven’t heard a single one complain about the masks or anything else we’re being asked to do.”

A requirement that all restaurants and bars screen employees prior to each shift was included in Local Health Order No. 16 which went into effect Thursday, July 30.
According to the order, which can be found on the Riley County Novel Coronavirus website, this includes “asking about symptoms, travel, contact and checking temperatures.”

Ruder said Bluestem’s business has also felt the impact of the pandemic recently, with a lack of customers leading to shortened hours and cut shifts for many baristas.

Uccello said because of the loss in business many food establishments are experiencing, leading with education has been vital to gaining cooperation from these businesses on the recent orders.

“There have been a few businesses that we’ve talked with, provided resources, and made suggestions to,” Uccello said. “So far, no businesses have been forcibly shut down because of noncompliance.”

The ordinance also requires food establishments to keep a record of employee health screenings that are available to the health department upon request.

“Businesses are doing their best to follow recommendations and are willing to work with us,” Uccello said. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep the community safe, and local businesses realize that.”

Further restrictions on food establishments include the closing of dance floors and standing areas and offering seating options either six feet apart or with barriers between them.

For business owners and their employees, changes of procedure are becoming the standard of operating. Also impacted are the customers of these food establishments.

“Once we knew what was going on with the pandemic and how it was affecting businesses, people started to understand that if they want to get their coffee, they’re going to show the respect that we’re asking for,” Ruder said. “I think most people are OK with changes as long as they know they’re helping to keep local businesses afloat.”

Updates on local regulations and other important information relating to COVID-19 in Riley County can be found at the health department website.