With COVID-19 cases spiking, restaurants are delaying openings and riding a roller coaster of customer interest

As COVID-19 cases are ballooning in Baton Rouge—and the state’s Phase Two continues on with new restrictions—restaurant owners are doing anything they can to stay afloat.

They are having to enforce the now-statewide mask mandate and taking appropriate measures to ensure the safety and well-being of all patrons and staff. They’re distancing tables and taking other precautions. But none of it is enough to return business levels to “normal,” those who spoke to 225 Dine for this story have said.

Some new restaurants in the Capital City had their openings pushed back several months. The highly anticipated arrival of Texas-born Torchy’s Tacos was set for this past April 1 on Nicholson Drive across from Tiger Stadium. Instead, the mostly finished restaurant has sat empty for much of the spring and summer.

The opening is now scheduled for July 22. Natalie Gerlach, local store marketer, says it’s been a long time coming getting Torchy’s to Baton Rouge, but the restaurant chain is eager to finally open.

“Baton Rouge is such a great city, and the response to our opening has been absolutely overwhelming,” Gerlach says. “We couldn’t be more excited to be part of such a wonderful, welcoming community.”

Across town, Emelie Alton says she’s struggled with the timing of the reopening and rebranding of her restaurant Flambée Cafe into Pizza Byronz.

“As with everything, I think, during this pandemic, you’re sort of guessing at what’s next, and then trying to build plans around the unknown,” she says.

The Pizza Byronz plans had been in the works since before the stay-at-home order began in March. But the owners of the Willow Grove restaurant decided to take the time during the shutdown to focus on renovations. Now, Alton and her team are set to open the last week in July. But like many other business owners, Alton is weary of the ever-changing circumstances that have thrown a wrench in many plans across Baton Rouge.

Other restaurants hurt by the financial crisis have been simultaneously grateful for the outpouring of support from the community.

In mid-May, The New York Times podcast The Daily interviewed Jasmine Lombrage, co-owner of Bullfish Bar & Kitchen on Nicholson. Lombrage talked about the struggles she and her husband and co-owner, Angel, faced with trying to reopen their restaurant.

The episode struck a chord with listeners across the country, and a GoFundMe campaign to support the restaurant has raised more than $87,000 as of press time. Because of the interview, the Lombrages saw a pick-up in business that has kept them afloat, for which Jasmine says they are thankful.

“Before The New York Times, we were nonexistent, you know?” Jasmine says. “I used to call the phones to make sure they were working because they weren’t ringing. It was that bad.”

Later, as support grew for the Black Lives Matter movement, many Black-owned restaurants like Bullfish also reported a surge in sales.

But Lombrage says the pick-up in business from both movements has begun to slow. She reminds Baton Rougeans that whether they choose to dine-in or pick-up, any order helps local businesses.

“All in all I’m grateful,” she says. “I always feel the need to be grateful, whether I have one customer or 10 costumers or 1,000 costumers.”

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