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Restaurants seeing effects of new COVID-19 surge, eyeing next steps

KIMBALL JUNCTION, SUMMIT COUNTY — Restaurants were among the small businesses Monday already taking countermeasures or plotting their next steps in the coming weeks amid a new pandemic surge.

With the prospects of cases and exposures potentially sidelining employees now or in the near future, it was imperative for “mom-and-pop” establishments especially to have a plan.

“Just today alone, I’ve got two messages from restaurant owners and managers,” said Brooks Kirchheimer, co-founder of Hearth and Hill in Kimball Junction. “One definitely had to shut down and go to curbside only, and another is considering if others in their staff test positive over the next 24 to 48 hours that they may have to go curbside only over the weekend, if even shut down.”

It was a small sample size, but nonetheless substantive to a restaurant owner who was already contemplating the possibility of staffing challenges.

So far, Kirchheimer said one of the most notable differences at Hearth and Hill during the recent surge has been with reservations, which suddenly turned wildly unpredictable when it came to whether the parties would actually show or not.

“Obviously, Christmas week is a huge business week for this community in a mountain town and I think (there has been a difference) because of three things — either, A. someone has COVID, B. they’re a little bit more leery to go out into a place that doesn’t have open windows or doors like we did in the summer or, C. travel plans are constantly changing,” Kirchheimer said. “That’s causing fluctuations in reservations that we’ve never seen before — going up by 50, and 2 hours later, going down by 30, and then back up by 40.”

Kirchheimer said restaurants are always having to plan for how much staff is needed on a given night, and the unpredictability of the number of guests has made the math difficult.

As he eyed the coming weeks and the ongoing surge, he said many restaurants are at a pivotal point again with their business models.

In Park City specifically, he said how the Sundance Film Festival proceeds this month could have a significant impact one way or the other on bottom lines.

More generally, he said many restaurants and small businesses no longer have the helping hand of the government to help guide them through the difficulties of previous surges.

“Restaurants and businesses are really at a new point where they need to make decisions of, alright, how do we operate this without that extra support financially,” Kirchheimer said.

Kirchheimer said paramount, though, was still the health of workers — who make doing business possible in the first place. He noted that he believed the establishment was one of the first in Utah at the outset of the pandemic to mandate masks for staff and guests.

Workers were masked Monday and the restaurant had been continuing to offer a $50 incentive for booster shots, as they had done previously for vaccine doses.

“Without a staff, you have no restaurant to run,” Kirchheimer said. “We’re really hopeful that this winter will continue and people make the safe and right decisions and we all can help each other out.”

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