By Tom Travis
Slainte! The St. Paddy’s Day vibes are nuanced this year with the outbreak of the coronavirus–and that Irish toast, which means “health!” was perhaps never more appropriate. Flint, the nation and the world are reacting to a near complete shutdown of services. EVM went for a walk downtown Tuesday to check the temperature of Flintstones on these early days of the coronavirus, the present state of emergency and how it’s affecting local restaurants.
Farmers’ Market still open, with modifications
Glad news to many was the Facebook notification Monday night that the Flint Farmers’ Market was going to be open on Tuesday. EVM spoke with Market Manager Karianne Martus in her office on the 2nd floor. (www.flintfarmersmarket.com.)
Martus said first and foremost, the Market is taking the safety of the customers seriously with precautions of usual cleanliness and sterilizing. She said the Market will follow federal and state government guidelines during the coronavirus outbreak. At this time, Market hours will remain the same.
Changes implemented last week by the Market due to the outbreak have been the placement of sanitizer wipe stations and hand sanitizer stations in the restrooms and also throughout the Market. Martus pointed out that, of course, the vendors are already operating with safe and sterile practices. That has made this easier.
Also, per the governor’s orders concerning the public dining area, all tables and chairs have been removed and stacked in the community room. All food vendors, including Steady Eddy’s the Market’s singular sit-down restaurant, will operate with to-go orders only.
In a Tuesday morning vendor meeting Martus said she reminded all the vendors that they are all their own businesses, and that the ultimate call is theirs if they don’t want to stay open. She said they will not be penalized if they choose to close. Usually if the market is open the vendors must be open, but not during this time, Martus said.
Martus said at this time the staple product vendors of the Market—meat, cheese, and bread vendors—are open. Martus said the only vendor not to give them notification of when they will reopen so far is Spectacular Spuds.
Food vendor MaMang is trying to figure out menu changes that will work better for to-go orders. For Mamang it is especially difficult for customers to transport the hot soups that they’re famous for. Martus said MaMang is hoping to be open Saturday. Vendors Chubby Duck and Charlie’s BBQ expect to be open Thursday.
Martus said she’s told non-food vendors at the Market, “if it comes to the point where it costs you more to stay open than it does just to take a two week break that’ll be fine.”
The economics and profit making for the Market and the vendors is a huge concern.
“We first of all want our customers to be safe when coming to the Market,” Martus said. “It would be easier to deal with if we had ‘a hard stop’ where we knew for example it was going to be April 5 or April 10 for sure we can open up again. But we just don’t know at this point. Some say it could be July or August. We have open houses, weddings and wedding receptions here and we just don’t know.
“If scientists could somehow calculate when all this will be over that would be great. But they just can’t do that. Right now this is all we can do.” Martus said.
Nichol Albiar, owner of Steady Eddy’s Cafe in the Market said, “Last week we began by sterilizing extra and keeping everything sanitary as usual.” But Albiar said they noticed a big drop in sales on Saturday.
“It’s usually our biggest day and sales were down by $1000,” Albair said. “Today we are only allowed to do to-go orders and we’ve removed all our tables and chairs.
Albair said, “In the last five hours I’ve probably had 25 to-go orders. That is a huge decrease from our usual sales.”
Albair said during the coronavirus outbreak Steady Eddy’s will only be open on Market days: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The public can enter Steady Eddy’s from the outside sidewalk door or the inside door to the Market area.
For her staff she said she is splitting up hours between everyone and just praying for the best that we can make it work. “We’re trying to make it so that everybody has a little something.”, said Albiar.
Cork on Saginaw bracing for a struggle
A few blocks away from the Flint Farmers Market, another food staple for St. Paddys Day and just general good times is Cork on Saginaw (www.corkonsaginaw.com). Executive Chef/Proprietor Marge Murphy said she anticipates she’ll have to apply for a small business loan to survive. The interest rate for small business loans has been cut to 2.5% which will help against the usual 5-7% rate, Murphy said.
Murphy added that surviving in the restaurant business is going to be nothing but tough to impossible during the coronavirus outbreak.
Murphy noted, “The 20th of the month is coming up. That is when all businesses have sales tax taken out of their accounts.” She said she’ll have to have $5,000 in her account for that debit. Murphy suggested it would be great if the State of Michigan would not take that money for a month or two. Murphy said she’s sure the expense of paying state sales tax will take down several businesses. EVM plans to ask Congressman Dan Kildee that question in a call-in press conference on the pandemic he’s holding Wednesday.
Murphy became emotional when talking about paying her staff and reflecting on a customer that had come in earlier. When the customer came in to pick up a big to-go order for his office, he left a $500 tip. With tears in her eyes she said, “That made me cry, like I am now.”
Murphy said during the water crisis she didn’t cash her pay check for several months. Her voice breaking, she said, “I always pay them first, [motioning to her waiters and kitchen workers]. My check is always the last check I write. I pay my people a living wage $11/hour and up.”
Updates for each of the vendors and restaurants mentioned in this article can be found on their websites and Facebook pages.
EVM Staff Writer and Assistant Editor Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.