As the former Executive Director of StartWheel, we’d expect nothing less.
From INSIDE BUSINESS By TREVOR METCALFE
Like so many restaurants and retail shops during the coronavirus pandemic, Cure Coffeehouse is hurting.
In recent months, sales have been down at least 50% compared to normal, according to co-owner Chris Shelton. The costs of continuing to do business — like providing protective equipment for staff and more frequent cleaning measures — have crippled the store’s operating margin.
Still, both the Norfolk and Smithfield locations reopened their indoor seating areas the week of June 8, as the coffeeshops began to comply with Gov. Ralph Northam’s second phase of reopening guidelines.
For Shelton, Cure’s survival is a testament to his staff and his customers.
“We wouldn’t be entrepreneurs, we wouldn’t be in business if we didn’t generally have an optimistic outlook on things,” Shelton said.
When Northam issued a stay-at-home order for Virginia in March, Shelton canceled a long-planned vacation and called a meeting with all his managers. They needed to figure out how to protect their employees and customers during that period of uncertainty.
The changes to the business were dramatic, Norfolk general manager Isabella Wallis said. In addition to masks and gloves for employees, the restaurant pivoted to an online ordering system — something the business had implemented before the pandemic — and call-in orders.
“I don’t think anybody has experienced something quite like this,” Wallis said.
The store also started offering meal kits and, thanks to relaxed liquor laws, take-home beer, wine and mimosa kits.
Due to reduced demand, the store still had to cut employee hours, Wallis said. However, the business was able to retain most of its 20 employees. Two who had planned to leave before the pandemic did so. Managers advised the rest to apply for partial unemployment benefits to supplant their lost hours.
A loan from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program has helped the business retain employees, Shelton said. The biggest challenge now is navigating the loan program’s confusing qualifications for forgiveness, which have already been changed once by federal agencies.
“Independent restaurants can’t be saddled with thousands of dollars in debt,” Shelton said.
Shelton is also taking stock of future business ventures affected by the pandemic. Cure launched a mobile coffee catering business in late 2019, but the pandemic wiped out all the weddings and events that had booked the service. Shelton hopes to restart the venture after phase three of reopening. He also tabled negotiations for a third physical location due to the pandemic.
Despite all the changes, Wallis said she was fired up about reopening the inside of the store to customers and impressed by Cure’s ability to quickly switch up its business model.
“I’m really proud of everybody that works here,” she said.
Trevor Metcalfe, 757-222-5345, email@example.com