EDMOND, Okla. — People are concerned whether their friends and neighbors will have the wherewithal to stand the length of time it will take to recover from the economic impact of the novel coronavirus.
“I think the climb back out will be long and hard,” said David Hornbeek, local architect and landlord. “I don’t think anybody could foresee the repercussions that were going to occur when everybody determined that you shouldn’t gather in groups.
“And the repercussions are greater than just the restaurant people losing business. There are people losing their jobs. There are people who have been laid off and can’t go to work. It’s baffling.”
Hornbeek’s rental clients include Cafe Evoke. Last week the coronavirus forced Cafe Evoke owners Robert and Lori Black to layoff half of their employees.
“You feel a little bit of obligation to make sure they’ve got enough money to get food on the table to take care of their family and kids,” Robert said.
“I was talking to one who was crying yesterday,” Lori said.
These are young people without high incomes, she said. Her employee had been on the phone with the City of Edmond to ensure his utilities can stay on until April. He needed time to get some money together and to talk to their landlord about rent, Lori said.
Lori said she knows of landlords sending out letters stating, “Don’t come asking for a break. Your inability to make revenue is not our problem.”
Hornbeek rents to three students at UCO who are all waitresses.
A text from one said, “We lost our jobs. We aren’t sure how we are going to pay our rent on the 5th.”
Hornbeek told them to stay calm while they figure something out. He promised not to evict them.
The next message was, “Thank you so much. Will there be any late fees?” Hornbeek told them, no.
LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS
Robert is a board member of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association. He is also has a consulting business. Restaurant owners are learning how to adapt and change their business model quickly, he said.
“I think the hopeful part of me says, ‘The restaurants that come out of this and are able to stay open, are going to be better operators because they’ve learned to adjust quickly, reduce expenses, modify their business operation,’” he said.
The drop in Evoke’s revenue right now is 60-70%. Hours have changed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Robert and Lori are working the shifts, too.
“We can already see people tipping from their heart because they want to help somebody this week,” Robert said.
Gift cards for friends are a great way to help small businesses to get through the next few weeks. Robert said it’s amazing to see the Edmond community, leadership, and government appreciates the endurance of employees.
“The part that I’d love to just shine a light on is the fact that we still don’t have any relief for small business. There isn’t anything that has been passed and approved other than the federal government has asked the Small Business Administration to be free-handed in giving out SBA loans,” Robert said.
The loss to the service industry impacts every Oklahoman, and nobody is looking for a handout, he said. One of the ideas he’s heard about is the relief of payroll tax for employers — a temporary relief of 7.65%, he said.
“That would be huge. We need our legislators to step up. I know several of them are working on it, but there’s not a lot of time,” Robert said.
Local restaurant groups based in Oklahoma are struggling just as much, he said. They may have a larger coffer to turn to, but they have a lot of expenses, he said.
FACING THE IMPACT
Martha Ball, owner of McDonalds on E. Second Street, said her customers have taken safety measures. Business is down, she said. Ball said she feels fortunate her business offers drive-through operations. The people who come inside use the restrooms and take their food to go.
“Our No. 1 priority right now is wanting to make sure we take care of our folks and our customers,” she said
The Second Street McDonalds remains open 24 hours, while the McDonalds at Danforth and Kelly is open from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m.
“We don’t lay-off people. So we’re still actively hiring. We’re still looking for great people all the time,” she said.
As with many restaurants, Tao Cha Cafe is only doing curbside take-out delivery, said James Kao, owner of the cafe located at 331 S. Blackwelder Ave. Few people are coming in his restaurant for take-out.
“I don’t see people these days. Especially from Tuesday until today — I don’t know. Where is everybody? I see at Target there’s still a lot of people.
He has yet to change his hours of operation.
“It depends on the government. It depends on the city — if they want us to shut it down — we’re down,” he said.
The four waiters that Kao employs are now rotating their shifts. Only two waiters work at a time now as they adjust. More adjustments could be made if economic conditions worsen, he said. He’s aware that the federal government wants to help small business.
“But I don’t know, it happens so fast,” he said, while adding that he’s made no decision to close.
“I’m still surviving. We’ve got to survive,” Kao said.