Restaurant rebirths: How businesses have adapted during COVID-19

As brick-and-mortar businesses have had to close during the pandemic, restaurant owners are getting creative with new business models. (Archive photo by Gabriela Faraone | Collegian Media Group)

Before the pandemic, Jenny Glenn’s local restaurant was going strong. Just months after COVID-19 came to the United States, she closed its doors. Things were looking down until she put her business on wheels.

Before businesses started shutting down in March, changing her restaurant’s business model wasn’t something Glenn ever thought about. She owned a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Bluestem Grill, located in the Kansas State Office Park, and business was fine up until that point.

As the pandemic progressed however, Glenn knew she’d have to do something different to stay in business.

“When coronavirus hit, it was especially hard on us, as we were a new business,” Glenn said. “When I announced the Grill was closing, so many people had kind things to say and were sad. It was a shame to have to do it, but I didn’t have an option at that point.”

From the remains of Bluestem Grill’s brick-and-mortar location, The Grill To Go was born. Glenn also owns a catering company, Kiva Catering, the business model of which inspired The Grill To Go: a meal delivery system of prepping food in a commercial kitchen and bringing it to customers via contactless delivery.

“We figured people were tired of cooking at home, and this could help out and I would be able to give some of my employees jobs again,” Glenn said.

Glenn’s creativity created greater access to food for customers who wanted to stay safe inside their homes.

Trace Henderson, sophomore in psychology, said he’s impressed with the resilience of restaurateurs in Manhattan during the pandemic.

“I think creativity, other than reliability is the most important factor in a business,” Henderson said. “Every time a business can provide that [creativity], the customer is benefiting.”

As challenging as the pandemic has been for businesses as a whole, it also affected employees and their livelihoods.

Amanda Caldas, former manager at Harry’s, felt this effect.

Harry’s, a fine-dining specialty restaurant formerly located in downtown Manhattan, didn’t make it through the economic downturn the pandemic created.

“Fine dining and a pandemic don’t really don’t go hand-in-hand,” Caldas said.

Out of their jobs, former staff members at Harry’s kept cooking. Many began experimenting with different foods and sharing their creations with friends and family.

From their experimentation came a new restaurant, Guilty Biscuit, specializing in biscuit sandwiches.

“Guilty Biscuit was a weird dream,” Caldas said. “We wanted to keep our team together, keep safety a priority and provide really good food at a really great price that’s easy to get ahold of.”

Guilty Biscuit started out as a few tables in a dining space, but the owners quickly converted to a carry-out only kitchen offering only delivery and curbside-pickup.

There are challenges to opening a restaurant in the middle of a pandemic, Caldas said, but Manhattan has provided an environment that allowed those at Guilty Biscuit to feel comfortable enough to move forward.

“This community is incredibly supportive of everything happening here, especially since we are a local business,” Caldas said.

Though quarantine marked the end for many brick-and-mortar businesses, and the economic impacts of the pandemic continue to drive out others, these Manhattan restaurants showed it’s possible to thrive during COVID-19 with a little creativity.