Restaurants in Louisiana struggling from coronavirus restrictions

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“It’s affecting the whole community. Not just our business, but it is affecting all restaurants.” -Jaime Stelly, Chris’ Poboys owner

LAFAYETTE, La. — On Monday, March 16, restaurant dining rooms across Louisiana were ordered closed by Governor Edwards. Since then, several businesses have been struggling to make a profit without hurting their own employees.

At Chris’ Poboys, management is trying every strategy they can think of to bring in customers, including turning their parking lot into a numbered drive-in and sending former waiters out as carhops.

Corey Pellerin is one of the waiters and shift managers for the restaurant on Robley Drive. He said, “Less people are coming because they just don’t see anybody in the parking lot, don’t see anybody eating here. Kind of looks closed.”

For 41 years, people have come to Chris’ Poboys for a meal, but this week, “Sales are down almost 50% percent. You can’t make up for that,” owner Jaime Stelly, who inherited the franchise when her father retired.

Most of the restaurant’s customers are dine-in. With that option off the table, everyone is suffering.

“A lot of servers, we don’t have work for them,” lamented Stelly. “You can come work, but they don’t get any money because they live off of their tips.”

Robley Drive Store Manager Michael Carpenter added, “Some people are going to try and file for unemployment which is totally understandable for what’s going on.”

The two locations in Lafayette are doing everything they can think of to recoup business. In addition to their drive-thru, they have curbside pick-up spots, as well as taking walk-in orders.

“We had to come out with almost a new business plan overnight, and then it’s kind of trial and error to find out what is working and what’s not working,” Stelly said.

Already, some employees’ hours have been cut. Although some loyal customers are supporting them, with local coronavirus cases ramping up, Chris’ Poboys owner fears they might have to operate like this beyond the current cut off date for business restrictions, April 13th.

“It’s only been a couple of days, and as this keeps going on and more and more people are losing more and more income, they’re not going to keep coming because they can’t,” explained Stelly. “It’s not a necessity, so we will get hit first.”

Pellerin has seen many of his fellow waiting staff choose to stop working and fall back on their parents, but that isn’t an option for everyone, “A lot of people this is their main form of income, and they are losing a lot right now. It feels really bad.”

Thankfully, there is some good news for small businesses. Thursday Governor John Bel Edwards announced disaster loans are available to COVID-19 affected businesses in all Louisiana parishes.

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