Since the pandemic hit, Helen Williams hasn't drawn a paycheck from Two Home Cooks, the breakfast and lunch restaurant that she owns in Dover. Business has been down about 60%, and Williams is hoping to keep her eight employees working.
“I’m worried about my staff. I want to take care of my staff. That’s my priority,” Williams said.
So, she’s living off the salary of her husband, Bob, who is the Chief of Police in nearby Barrington.
“My husband still has his job, so personally I’m ok,” she said.
Keeping happy staff is part of Williams’ plan to make Two Home Cooks a sort of oasis, where patrons can push aside the day-to-day stress of the pandemic.
“I want people to feel like it’s a good place — there’s no doom and gloom,” William said. “It’s a happy place.
Williams’ attitude has been infectious. Her eight staff feel like they’re all in this together, she said. When Williams shared that she might need to lay off an employee or two, all of the staff volunteered to reduce their hours so that no one would be off the team.
“I am blessed for that,” she said. “Their attitude is ‘we’ll ride it out with you.’
Despite the camaraderie, there’s no denying the economic impact of the pandemic. Normally, Two Home Cooks has 12 tables — now, to allow for social distancing, they’re down to 5. The governor is now allowing restaurants to open at full capacity without six-feet of distancing between tables if restaurants erect barriers that can help prevent the virus spreading throughout the space. But despite being down tables, Williams isn’t sure if barriers are in her future.
“It’s another financial expense that you have to take out,” she said.
Customers appreciate having tables spaced far apart, and she’s not sure whether she’d lose diners if she opted to put tables closer together with barriers. She also worried for her staff, being exposed to double the number of customers each day
“I’m thinking of my staff, not getting sick,” she said. “Right now, I’m kind of wishy-washy about putting barriers up.
During the summer, Two Home Cooks relied on outdoor seating to make up for the lost table space indoors, but that’s done for the season. She’s offering curbside and delivery, but is still apprehensive about business during the coming months.
“I’m still bracing right now,” she said. “The worst is going to be through this winter.
If the winter is a bad one — in terms of snow, cold or covid — the restaurant industry will continue to be affected, she said.
“If it’s going to be a hard winter, nobody’s going to be coming out.”
January and February are already the slowest months for Two Home Cooks, as people focus on their New Year’s resolutions.
“Everybody goes on diets and realizes how much money they’ve spent,” Williams said.
This year, she’s focused on getting through those months. When she reaches March — a year into the pandemic — she will breathe a small sigh of relief, she thinks.
“I believe we’re going to be fine,” Williams said. Still, she expects it will be some time until she sees the pre-pandemic norm of people lining up down the street to get their meals.
“Before the pandemic, we were doing really well. It was busy. There was always a line out the door. My projection was increasing every year since the day my door opened,” she said.
During 2020, she’s not expecting any growth for Two Home Cooks. Survival will be enough.
“We’re hardy people,” Williams said. “We’ll make it through.
This story is part of the 50 Businesses, 50 Solutions series, shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative, that aims to highlight how business leaders across the state, from mom and pop shops, to large corporations have adapted to meet the challenges and disruptions caused by the novel coronavirus in the hopes others may be able to replicate these ideas and innovations. Tell us your story here. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.