It’s only been a few weeks since restaurants have been able to ditch curbside and fully re-open in-person dining in Michigan including at local staple, Lansing Brewing Company. But, reopening at LBC came to a screeching halt last weekend when someone who came in tested positive for COVID-19.
The brewery has been navigating what it means to serve customers in this new normal. From selling growlers in the parking lot to increasing patio space. In the days after a positive COVID test, the business has had their space professionally cleaned and sanitized.
Their situation isn't unique. Eateries all over the country are grappling with closures after employees or patrons test positive for COVID-19, often immeadiately after reopening their businesses to customers for the first time in months.
In East Lansing an outbreak of COVID-19 was linked to Harpers Restaurant & Brewpub when 22 people tested positive after visiting.
WKAR’s Sophia Saliby spoke with LBC General Manager, Jeremy McKowen on Tuesday just a few hours before they reopened for business.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.
Sophia Saliby: Can you tell me more about what happened that led you to shut down on Friday?
Jeremy McKowen: Yeah, I can. I was actually working that Thursday evening shift, we received a phone call from an individual. I do applaud the individual for acting so quickly. The individual called me on Thursday night, truthfully about a half hour before we close, so about 9:30pm [and] let me know that they had a positive COVID-19 test result, and they were in the restaurant the day prior during lunch. So again, very thankful that they were fast acting. They woke up with a fever on Thursday morning and immediately went to get tested [and had] exhibited no symptoms inside the restaurant.
We've been planning for this for a while, just in case. So, we have some procedures and policies in place that helped us to act pretty quickly and just immediately decided to shut it down and get it cleaned. We really want to emphasize that we wanted staff testing as well. So, I've been tested twice since just to confirm. Again, the last thing we would want to do is bring it back in and potentially spread, so [it was] good decision to close I believe.
Saliby: I know some businesses have still stayed closed to dine-in customers because there's so much worry about incidents like this. Is there a plan for if this happens again? Would you shut down again?
We would have to cross that bridge when we got to it. I think we've got a really good sanitation and safety [standard operating procedure] … That's why I can rest our laurels on the fact that it didn't go anywhere else, per se, at least within our staff, so no other staff member had contracted it. The SOP is in place.
So, I think if we have to cross that bridge, again, I think we would probably take the same steps as far as an immediate cleaning, disinfecting. I don't know if I would stay closed for four days again, over a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. I think we want to make sure that we're confident, and I feel really confident going into today.
Saliby: When I first heard about this, I think I was kind of blown away because there's really such an undertaking to get your staff tested, to professionally clean, that has to be a lot of stress on you [and] a lot of financial stress. Is this all worth it to stay open?
McKowen: I think it is. I think we're not just selling burgers and beer here. We're landmark [in] downtown Lansing. I think we do provide a really great atmosphere for some individuals who can come out and feel safe when they're here. That's our main goal is to make sure that they feel safe, so I've received a lot of praise from guests and from the health department by the steps that we've taken.
We were not forced to close by the health department. We initiated that ourselves. It is worth it. I think, regardless, whatever you do, you are exposed. If you go to the grocery store, if you go to the gas station, there are exposure risks with those situations. I think, if anything, the restaurant industry in itself, is taking this very seriously. So, I think this is probably one of the safest places that you can go.
Saliby: It's been incredibly hard for local businesses in a variety of ways during this pandemic. What has been the hardest part personally for you?
McKowen: There is a layer of stress. There's a layer of responsibility that you feel when you when you have people that you care about that work with you. Just to make sure that you're doing everything. You've done the research. You put the plans in place, and then to have something like this take place, it's a shock for certain. But again, I'm glad that we've spent the time and we've done the research.
I just, I really want to say, I can't emphasize enough how much safety is just so important right now and then building consumer confidence as well and letting them know that you've done the things. It's tough to just do that through Facebook posts or through social media presence. They got to come in, and they got to see that you take it seriously and I hope I hope that that's been conveyed, but it has been it has been stressful.
Thankfully, I'm blessed to have a team that has been able to pivot, because this has been a little bit of a rollercoaster. But during our three months of closure, I wasn't just sitting around waiting. We were we were preparing to be to be ready for situations like this.
Follow Sophia on Twitter: @Sophia_Saliby