Restaurant owners, operators help others, appreciate customer support

Nicki Rodriguez, co-owner of Big Mambo’s Latin Bistro in Sunbury, puts together a meal in a takeout bag on Friday.

By Justin Strawser

SUNBURY — The community has been supporting small businesses like restaurants during the COVID-19 crisis, according to eatery managers and owners in the Valley.

After Gov. Wolf ordered the shut down of non-essential businesses and in-house dining, those owners have been relying on take-out and delivery to survive. The manager of the Hotel Edison’s restaurant at 401 Market St., Sunbury, even pivoted slightly to fulfill a need.

Brian Pope, who has been the owner and chef of the kitchen since 2018, reacted when the Central Susquehanna Valley Interfaith Council Meals on Wheels program that serves the Shikellamy School District was forced to temporarily suspend its operations. He started making frozen meals for $6 each or $25 for five; the costs of many of the meals have been offset by donations.

“I heard there was a need for people,” said Pope, a former Meals on Wheels coordinator for hospice units in Florida. “A lot of people don’t have vehicles, some might not have families, some might not be able to get out. This is primarily for seniors, elderly, homebound, those in need. Anyone who needs it. I don’t want to discourage anyone who needs food not to call. If you need it I want to serve it.”

Pope, who personally delivers the meal packs on Sunday, said he had 130 meals last week and expects to do 275 this weekend. Pope said he has been doing about one-third of his normal business from regular customers.

“People are doing what they can,” said Pope. “Everybody is struggling. I want everyone to be safe, secure and smart. Don’t take risks. We are making sure everybody is safe here.”

Nicki Rodriquez, one of the owners of Big Mambos Latin Bistro at 9-11 N Center St., Sunbury, said business has been normal for them since they were primarily a take-out business prior to Gov. Wolf’s order.

“A lot of the community is supportive in every way,” said Rodriquez. “Even we are trying to support those who are willing to stay open.”

She and her husband Ronnie Rodriquez this week installed a plexiglass barrier at the front window where customers order. It’s designed to keep customers from leaning inside and a guard from coughing and sneezing.

“We’re asking customers if they would like to pay over the phone,” said Nicki Rodriquez. “Customers who are paying with a card in person, we clean the machine after each use. We clean several times a day.”

They are averaging 35 orders on slow days, 55 on busier days, but that’s not including the multiple meals ordered in one order, she said.

They also do about four or five deliveries a day, she said.

Kyle Ard, one of the owners of Ard’s Farm at 4803 Old Turnpike Rd, Lewisburg, said the market is still open, they are offering grocery delivery and curbside pick up and the restaurant menu is available for takeout. Business is down about 40 percent, Ard said.

“I do think the community is supporting small business,” said Ard. “I think people are scared, but people are trying, and we appreciate that. Every small business owner appreciates everything we can get right now. Clearly it’s a big change, but we’re trying to adapt the best we can.”

During the last two weeks, Ard’s has hosted a chicken BBQ with a drive-through system. Customers order and pay ahead of time, and they drive through to pick up their food, said Ard.

Also, in addition to the regular menu, the restaurant offers a family meal in one dish that can be heated and served, said Ard.

“People seem to like that,” said Ard. “We’re trying to accommodate the best way possible. It’s a new world for everyone.”

DoorDash in March announced that new restaurants can sign up without any commission fees for 30 days and restaurants already onboard will pay reduced fees.

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