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Restaurants are adjusting to the pandemic with large portions, to-go alcohol — or they're closing
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The Gainesville location of Moonie's Texas Barbecue has closed due to COVID-19, but a signs says their Flowery Branch location is still operating. - photo by Scott Rogers

With indoor dining off the table, restaurants are having to quickly adapt in order to stay alive.

Curbside pick-up and home deliveries have dominated food businesses, and more recently, takeout alcohol orders have entered the mix.

Thanks to new resolutions in Gainesville, Flowery Branch, Oakwood and unincorporated Hall County, restaurants can now sell their beer and wine to-go.

David Camalier, manager of Hopscotch and Avocados Restaurant in downtown Gainesville, said he has only received a few alcohol orders, but is hopeful the new offering will boost business.

“It will help once everyone gets in the groove of it,” Camalier said. 

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Downtown Gainesville's Hopscotch restaurant. - photo by Scott Rogers
Like most businesses in the food service industry, Camalier said large adjustments have been made at the two restaurants, including temporarily closing Hopscotch to focus on Avocados. 

Right now, people have the option of placing a pick-up order online at avocadoseasts.com or by calling 770-532-0001. 

Camalier said Avocados is providing delivery services to those who live within a 5-mile radius from the Gainesville square. Customers also have the option of using Uber Eats.

Camalier said Avocados’ menu will drastically change soon because of what’s available. He said the restaurant’s main vendors have a limited supply of food.

“We’re going to the bare bones and trying to stay open for the community,” Camalier said. “It’s tough.”

To promote social distancing, Main Street Gainesville installed signs this week in the downtown area for designated 5-minute food pickup. 

Nicole Ricketts, Main Street’s manager, said these spots are located in the parallel parking spaces around the square. 

“We’re hoping that this encourages people to keep a few spots open for curbside takeout,” Ricketts said. “We want to make it easier to choose that option to keep business flowing as much as possible during this time.”

Staying above water

Moonie’s Texas Barbecue, located in Flowery Branch and Gainesville, has started to find its rhythm with what works and doesn’t work for business.

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Moonie's Texas Barbecue owner Jason Martin prepares a cut of brisket for smoking. - photo by Nick Bowman

Since Flowery Branch’s city council passed a resolution to allow to-go beer and wine at restaurants, the business is now offering $1 beers.

Jason Martin, owner of Moonie’s, said he decided to temporarily close down his Gainesville location and place his efforts into Flowery Branch, which has built a customer base through the past nine years. 

With sales cut in half, Martin said he had to make other “devastating” cuts. 

“I had 20 employees last week, and now I have four,” he said. “I had to lay off 16 people.”

Luckily, he said the remaining restaurant has been busy enough to keep its doors open. 

“Things are really busy at Flowery Branch,” Martin said. “I think what’s working well is that you can buy meat by the pound. People are picking up food for eight to 10 people. They still want restaurant-style food, which is helpful to us.”

Kim Johnson, owner of At The Tracks in Lula, said the allowance of to-go alcohol wouldn’t improve her restaurant’s situation.

Most of her revenue comes through catering, which has dealt the largest blow for Johnson’s business.

Johnson said At The Tracks has lost at least three months worth of catering because of canceled weddings and events.

“I’ve got a small skeleton crew right now,” she said. “We’re just keeping it at a minimum.”

For now, families placing large orders of food are helping keep her business afloat.

Johnson said one of her customers is relying on At the Tracks to help feed her teenage boys. 

“This is one of the reasons we decided not to completely shut down,” she said. “The grocery store would only allow her to buy one package of hotdogs. They’re having to go to the store every day to get enough. This is a time when we all need to come together and help each other out.”

Staying strategic

To-go alcohol is a strategy beer and wine shops are already familiar with.  

Jim Tortorelli, owner of Tap It Growlers and co-owner of Cork It, said his two businesses have set up a beer and wine drive-thru. 

Customers are asked to call the business and pay over the phone. They can then swing by Tap it to pick up a six-pack or growler of beer, or Cork It for a bottle of wine.

People also have the ability to make off-the-menu requests for certain wine and beer.

Tortorelli said his sales have only dropped by 30%, which is low compared to most in the food industry. 

“Everybody is going through this together,” he said. “Let’s shop local and try to help one another.”

Aimee Hoecker, owner of Downtown Drafts in Gainesville, said her business switched to takeout beer and wine on March 18, and has experienced an 80% reduction in sales.

“Every day we’ve made enough selling to-go to where we can still pay our rent and utilities,” Hoecker said. “That’s kind of our goal now is to pay monthly bills and employees for as long as we’re able to stay open.”

When people want to order beer or wine from Downtown Drafts, they can either call ahead or call from a parking spot near the business. The shop’s staff will bring the order directly to the car.

Hoecker said Downtown Drafts moved all of its tables and chairs out of the building to make sure customers don’t spend time in the business.

“They can literally walk in and pick their stuff up,” she said. “There’s also hand sanitizer all over the store.”

Left Nut Brewing Co. in Gainesville has set up a kiosk for beer pickups. 

Pap Datta, owner of the brewery, said customers can legally purchase one case per day, which equates to around 24 bottles or cans of beer.

Unfortunately, he said people haven’t been taking advantage of the to-go services. 

Left Nut Brewing has closed its Sunday operations and shortened its hours to 4-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, and 2-8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 

“All breweries in Georgia are facing the same dilemma,” Datta said. “The entire market is swinging down drastically. We just have to figure out what we can do and continue to do it.”

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Mirva Datta, taproom manager at Left Nut Brewing Co., pours a beer on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. - photo by Austin Steele
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