Editor’s note: The following is part of Startland News’ ongoing coverage of the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on Kansas City’s entrepreneur community, as well as how innovation is helping to drive a new normal in the ecosystem. Click here to follow related stories as they develop.
Kansas City’s restaurant scene already is struggling amid Coronavirus (COVID-19) concerns — but with takeout and no-contact delivery still an option, the chance to rally around KC’s favorite eats remains, said Danielle Lehman.
“A lot of restaurants took a pretty big hit,” said Lehman, host of the “Open Belly” podcast and creator of Curbside KC. “Now restaurants are really just adapting to try to still be able to operate their business while people are practicing social distancing.”
As precautions related to the spread of COVID-19 have increased, Kansas City and municipalities across the country have limited businesses like restaurants, bars, taverns, clubs to operations that dramatically reduce the chance for exposure to the virus — drive-through, pickup and delivery services.
With the situation evolving on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis, even those exceptions could soon be up in the air for restaurants and other business owners.
“Nobody’s quite sure what to do. Everybody’s waiting to find out what happens, but they are definitely preparing for the worst,” she added. “This is a really urgent time for a lot of these restaurants, so if you want them to stick around, we really all need to chip in and do what we can to keep them afloat.”
With owners increasingly turning to add more extensive delivery options, Lehman decided to curate a central list of restaurants and their offered services to increase access to the menus — without need for direct, one-on-one contact, she said.
Since the site went up, it’s already seen more than 10,000 visitors, she said Monday.
“We’ve had a huge response from consumers who are interested,” Lehman said. “I launched the site with about 20 restaurants on it just as a starting point, but gave restaurants a way to add themselves. I’ve had over 200 submissions of people asking for their restaurant to be added to the site, so I’m definitely seeing a ton of traffic.”
Click here to view the Curbside KC database.
Despite such optimism-focused initiatives, more and more local restaurants in coming months might be forced to close temporarily, if not permanently, she added, citing Los Angeles, Seattle and New York City as examples of what could happen.
“Restaurants are operating on such thin margins already that taking a hit like this can be really detrimental to their business,” Lehman said. “But what I’m hoping for is that as long as we are able to keep restaurants operational, that people will continue to support them.”
Industry specific obstacles — like employees being dependent on tips and owners having difficulties providing comprehensive benefits to those employees — make restaurants more vulnerable to drastic changes in customer count, she added.
“I think we’re just all taking it day-by-day because no one’s really sure if restaurants will still be able to operate and how this might change,” Lehman said. “But for now, I’m just trying to get people the most accurate, up-to-date restaurant information directly from the restaurants.”
Despite the uncertainty, the quick adaptation of owners to the new climate has been admirable, she said.
“I think a lot of the restaurant owners in Kansas City are really resilient and are adaptable and are able to pivot when they need to very quickly,” Lehman said. “A lot of the restaurants will be able to operate more efficiently moving forward and give the diners more options.”
Amid travel concerns, production of Season 3 of Lehman’s Open Belly podcast has been halted as well, she added.
“Everything’s on pause as we figure out next steps,” she said.
Click here to read more about Open Belly’s mission to highlight immigrant restaurant owners and the inclusive power of cuisine.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.