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Charles County restaurants take precautions amid pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is impeding a plethora of business operations; however, vital industries like the food and beverage industry must find a way to continue. 

The food industry is one that needs to be sustained. During this time of nationwide panic, keeping it going is an obstacle that needs to be addressed. 

According to an order by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) last week, "all restaurants and bars shall remain closed to the general public." The order states that restaurants may deliver food to customers off the premises and offer takeout and drive-thru services. And this weeks order calling for all but "essential businesses" to close also allows eateries to continue with delivery and carryout.

Containing the spread of germs is high on the agenda. Social distancing, especially at eateries, is almost impossible. Because of this, some restaurants — such as The Charles in La Plata — had to shut down operations in totality.

David Winer, owner of the restaurant, said the restaurant ceased operations after the news of the virus began to spread. 

"We decided we could not stay open. We could not possibly generate enough dollars and we did not want to put our employees at risk," Winer said. "It was a no-win situation for them and for us. The spread of the virus is obviously very deadly for a certain group of people and the only way to stop the spread is to avoid each other."

Although the restaurant is closed for the foreseeable future, Winer told the Maryland Independent that generating revenue is still a viable possibility. 

"We are going to sustain losses for a long time, so we are trying to sell gift cards online," Winer said. "Any revenue we get from online gift card sales — which can be used when we reopen — will go to the staff."     

Winer said he has had to lay off about 150 employees to make sure they stay safe until all of this is over.

"Any help the public can offer now and on the other side of this is going to be vital," Winer said.   

Marcos Magana, manager of La Tolteca in La Plata, said the staff had a meeting about the virus and decided to do the least amount of cuts to the staff as possible. 

"We offered the waiters, if they choose, the option to pick up some shifts just doing carryout," Magana said. "We put up a huge open for carryout sign in front of the business and we flooded social media and got the word out there. Carryout is an extremely huge part of our business."

Keeping the kitchen clean is of great importance to La Tolteca at this time, and Magana said that it is mostly about keeping the routine going.

"We have been doing it in the front for people who are coming in and picking up food. We have sanitizer at the front," Magana said. "The cleaning process is more repetitive."  

The unknown of what is to come next is weighing on the mind of Magana. 

"The main concern is that we don't have a time frame," Magana said. "I cannot survive on carryout alone forever. My rent is not cheap, I have a big spot."

During this pressing time, the community has been forced to come together and lend a helping hand to those in need. Magana said he has been emotionally impacted by the people in Charles County. 

"I just want to say that over the past couple of days, I have been touched by the people in this area," Magana said. "They are making a push to support us. What you are seeing in Charles County is phenomenal." 

The Green Turtle in La Plata is adjusting its business operations, as well as offering discounts. Meredith Wagner, marketing manager for the restaurant, said they are only open for carryout and the hours of operation are 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. 

As a result, sales have been impacted tremendously.

"Our to-go business is usually a small percentage [of sales]," Wagner said. "With that being said, our sales have decreased by 95%. We are only getting a steady amount of traffic on orders. A couple hours in the afternoon and evening." 

Wagner said the business is offering a 25% discount on to-go orders and a 50% discount for first responders and medical personnel as a debt of gratitude for their services.

"This past week, we offer any first responders or medical personnel a 50% off if they show up with their identification, uniform or scrubs," Wagner said. "We love supporting any way we can. It is really important for us to support them as they support us." 

Twitter: @MDunlopSOMD

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