When Gov. Kay Ivy ordered restaurants closed and operate as takeout only, Brian Harsany and his team switched gears. But after eight days, Harsany felt his employees were still at risk and made the difficult decision to close all five of his restaurants and catering operation.
“A couple of situations arise where I felt it wasn’t in the best interest of my employees, the people I work with. They may come in contact with someone that wasn’t doing the best practices and at that point, we felt it was in our best interest and our employees’ best interest to just shut down,” he said.
Brian and Jodi Harsany own and operate BuzzCatz Coffee and Sweets, Cobalt the Restaurant, Cosmo’s Restaurant and Bar, GT’s on the Bay, Luna’s Eat and Drink and Magnolia Hall. All six are in Orange Beach and total about 300 employees when the shutdown occurred. During the height of the season, that number is closer to 500.
With the closure of the restaurants and loss of income for employees, Harsany wanted to make sure everyone was being fed every day.
“We started feeding our employees seven days a week and we average about 150 servings a day. We have done that since March 21. We have one employee with five kids, and we feed them every day. We encouraged everyone to take advantage of it,” Harsany said.
Orange Beach Schools expressed a need to feed students on the free and reduced lunch program. Harsany and his management team stepped up to fill that need.
“What’s 80 meals when you are already making 150,” Harsany said.
The student meals were the same as the employee meals and food costs were reimbursed by the Mako’s Academics, Arts, Athletic Club and the labor was donated. Every day Matt Pugh, director of operations, Jack Baker, corporate chef, a few key employees, and Harsany worked to put out the meals.
“It started at about 85 or 90 (meals) but it’s dropped down to a pretty steady 77 each day. We do that Monday through Friday and it is a really good balanced meal that the chef came up with. We have those delivered and then we roll right into the employee meals. Usually, by 1 or 1:30 we have fed about 200 people for that day. On the weekends we just feed our employees while we wait to get them back and put them back to work,” Harsany said.
With the restaurants opening May 11, the employee meals ended May 8. The school meals will continue until the end of the school year thanks to a separate catering kitchen located next to Luna’s. It will allow the student meals to be prepared without interrupting the restaurant.
Harsany and his team have been working out extra sanitation protocols and getting everything ready for reopening.
“We have been meeting on a regular basis to figure out what we were going to do that we weren’t already doing. This industry is very well trained in proper sanitation. Every time we have a sanitation class with ServSafe come up we usually send multiple employees from each location. We have a wall of sanitation certificates because I think the more eyes you have on how it’s supposed to be done the fewer opportunities you have of something slip through the cracks and being done improperly,” Harsany said.
Twelve sanitation stations on pedestals are located be at each entry location and 42 dispensers of sanitizer have been mounted on walls that are high-touch areas. There will also be staff at each location that focuses on wiping doorknobs and sanitizing.
“One of our vendors has anti-bacterial wipes and we will present those at the time that we’re presenting menus. They can take that, wipe down the menu which will already be cleaned and the table surface. Whatever they need to do to feel more comfortable and to ensure that they have good clean surfaces and atmosphere in which to dine and feel safe,” Harsany said.
“We are very pleased to be able to open our businesses again. We will do so in a manner, to ensure the safety of the people we work with as well as our guests. We thank the governor, for the decision she and her team made.”