VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — It’s been almost two years since the COVID-19 pandemic first shut down the country.
For many businesses – 10% of restaurants in the first year, according to studies – it was the beginning of the end.
For The Rustic Spoon, this was a major turning point…
“I’m not closing my doors. That’s not an option,” Ryan Hines, one of the restaurant’s three owners, told News 3 in April 2020, a month after pandemic restrictions began and two months after. the opening of The Rustic Spoon in the Good Neighborhood of Virginia Beach.
It was years of preparation for Hines and his business partners, Jay Kulas and Nick Pogue, who had spent years moving through the Virginia Beach restaurant industry and other careers.
When restrictions shut down dine-in services at Virginia restaurants, The Rustic Spoon saw its entire dining room closed. Sales plummeted 80%, restaurant owners laid off newly hired staff and started making deliveries themselves.
With each phase of reopening, the venue has adapted, getting creative with its menu and social media, while spreading word of mouth around its homemade brunch and dinner options.
Now, just after celebrating its second anniversary, Hines says The Rustic Spoon is opening its second location in the Red Mill section of Virginia Beach on the site of the old La Bella Italia on Upton Drive.
“It was a wonderful sense of accomplishment because we didn’t know what was going to happen during the pandemic,” Hines said of the second anniversary celebration. “We’ve had a lot of customers coming over from Red Mill to check out this location to see what’s going on in the new spot.”
Hines says he and his team still have permits and other hurdles to overcome, but the hope is to open the new location in early summer. It expects the look and menu to be the same as the first location.
And while staffing has been an issue for many restaurants in the area, Hines told News 3 he believes he’s finally turned a corner in that regard as well.
“Obviously word of mouth is a big thing in this industry. We did the normal things like Yeah, we did the Facebook posts. It was just, man, we had to do whatever we could to bring people here”, he mentioned.
Martha Davenport, executive director of the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association, says it’s a similar story for other companies. However, those who are seasonal are still working to fill their numbers.
“Restaurants that have been operational all year probably have a better image than those that haven’t, but we’re actively looking for people who want jobs,” she said.
Davenport says the VBRA works with other organizations like the Convention and Visitors Bureau and even Virginia Beach City Public Schools to address long-term hiring in the hospitality industry.
But the hope is that good news, like that of The Rustic Spoon, will continue as the restaurant industry emerges from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.