Igloos, take-out and space heaters: How some Hburg restaurants survived COVID winter

Video and article by Chase Downey, contributor

After relying on outdoor spaces and reduced seating to stay open during the pandemic, many local restaurants and bars didn’t hibernate during the winter, but opted to innovate. 

Many businesses reported fewer customers dining or drinking in their establishments once the weather turned colder. Many relied more on carry-out orders and delivery services such as Doordash, Grubhub and Uber Eats. 

“I think it’s a much bigger group of people than a lot of people realize that are still not going to restaurants because they still feel uncomfortable about being in the inside environment,” said Joe Fowler, general manager of Billy Jacks. “A lot of them get to-go food still, because they want to support us.” 

Billy Jack’s closed its outdoor seating area in the parking lot next door to Jack Brown’s in October, moving into a joint space with Jack Brown’s between the two restaurants. Fowler estimated that 50% of Jack Brown’s and Billy Jack’s business came from to-go orders, compared to around 10% before the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Fowler said Billy Jack’s hopes to be one of the first restaurants to reopen their patio downtown later this month.

Jaime Reese, general manager at Capital Ale House, said Capital Ale House kept open its patio during the winter. 

“People are just not as comfortable eating inside,” Reese said. “We saw a big downfall in sales as soon as the weather got cold.”

So Capital Ale also relied on to-go orders. 

“[Delivery services have] increased our sales. It’s been a godsend for restaurants, really,” Reese said. “We probably had more to go orders [this Valentine’s Day] than we’ve ever had on a Valentine’s Day.” 

Sagebird Ciderworks purchased large plastic “igloos” for customers to sit in on their back patio. 

“We recognized early on that our outdoor seating was very valuable,” Zach Carlson, owner of Sagebird Ciderworks, said. “That’s a lot of the reason that folks were coming to us.”

Carlson said business had decreased over the winter, attributing it mainly to the cold weather. Despite this, some customers still sat outside in the cold. Carlson said he was thankful for that support and is looking forward to warm weather — and more customers sitting outside — this spring. 

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