Restaurant owners saw boom, then bust

Five-month old business is struggling because of social distance rules, 'stay at home' orders.

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April 2, 2020 - 10:12 AM

The Outsiders Bar & Grill, 112 S. Washington Ave., has been hit hard from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Erick Mitchell / Iola Register

The Outsiders Bar and Grill opened its doors in October to wild success. Five months later, the restaurant is struggling due to social distancing precautions in response to COVID-19. 

Owners Parker Stapp and fiance Shawna Buckwold are now on the brink of losing their way of life. 

“We took $56,000 out of our savings to open this restaurant,” Buckwold said. “That was all of our savings. Had I known this was going to happen, I would have been like, ‘Screw this, let’s go do something else.’”

Stapp and Buckwold said they were welcomed with warm hearts when they opened on Farm City Days weekend. 

Like every other business, the restaurant suffered a sluggish beginning of the year, but turned the corner come Valentine’s Day. By March, the couple believed they were back on track. But after an eerily slow Friday the 13th, Outsiders began to struggle. 

“Obviously people stopped coming in because they feared whatever it is. Then they started putting all these orders in and closing everything down,” Buckwold said. “The biggest thing for me is that they deem us non-essential, when we are doing the same exact thing that Walmart does and the liquor store, yet they are deemed essential.”

It’s because restaurants like Outsiders, who build their brand on being local gathering places, have been ruled off limits to curb the spread of the deadly virus. 

Even so, the rules rub the couple the wrong way. Buckwold believes her business has been targeted unfairly.

“They tell us that you have to practice social distancing, but I don’t know if you have been in Wal-Mart, but they don’t have an employee standing at every aisle saying, ‘ohh, noo noo, only one person at a time.’” Buckwold said. “They are not six feet apart, so they totally targeted us. They said we are not essential, and we might not be essential to them, but to us this is our livelihood. We are essential. This is essential to us surviving.”

“We actually buy our meat from a local farmer here in Allen County, and that was one of the things that we pride ourselves on — selling a local product,” Stapp said. “We do a lot of things that people don’t know that we do in the community, because that is who we are.”

Outsiders is a dine-in experience, not one known for its to-go orders, and curb-side or house deliveries. When restaurants were asked to limit their dining areas, Outsiders felt the sting, cutting sales by up to three-fourths.

At one point, Outsiders had 22 employees, but are now down to four on the payroll. The restaurant is going on nearly three weeks without its normal food truck service due to multiple reasons, according to Buckwold.

“We weren’t getting food for two reasons. One, they weren’t coming down here, and changed their truck routes to come once a week,” Buckwold said. “Secondly, you have to meet a minimum order on those food trucks, and we weren’t going to meet the order with the sales we were doing.”

Recently the government passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package to help lift the American economy from the unprecedented crisis caused by COVID-19. Outsiders applied for a separate small business loan, but were denied due to not being in operation 12 months before the coronavirus crisis occured. 

“Who is helping us? There is no money going in our pockets. Those $1,200 stimulus checks are a joke,” Buckwold said. “Our electric bill here is $1,500 a month. Who is going to pay for that? To get the small business loans, they haven’t even rolled the programs out to the banks yet. It is going to be five to six weeks, but five to six weeks is way too late.”

Buckwold and Stapp know they will need to start from scratch, but are confident they will get to serve Allen County once more.

“We are going to reopen, we just have to be smart over the next few weeks,” Stapp said. “I think we are going to get things going. This was our goal, to have this restaurant.” 

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