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Restaurant rebound: Hermiston eateries begin to reopen

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For the first time in nearly two months, diners were able to sit down to eat at restaurants on Friday as Umatilla County entered phase one of Gov. Kate Brown’s reopening plan.

Nookie’s Restaurant and Brewery was among several Hermiston restaurants to close entirely for the duration of the stay home order, a period of time that owner Mitch Myers said he used to recondition his restaurant and complete a few long term maintenance projects, such as upgrading lighting and replacing the aging flooring in the kitchen.

Myers said that he spent a lot of time thinking about what he would need in terms of staffing and product once the restaurant was able to reopen. He said that when they closed, the business had to donate nearly $30,000 in perishable inventory and clear out stock, leaving the restaurant mostly devoid of food by the time he began thinking about reopening.

“We knew that we needed to get the kitchen back retooled up and functioning, even if it was at a smaller level,” Myers said. “Once we got all of our remodeling done and everything ready to go, we went ahead and opened for takeout for eight or nine days.”

Despite Myers’ worries about how to reopen, he said he was overwhelmed with how well the first weekend went. The restaurant did three days of record sales over the weekend when compared to the same days in years past.

“It makes me so optimistic — as a business person — to see the fact that it rebounded not only to previous numbers, but better than pre-COVID closure numbers every single day for the first three days that we opened,” he said.

As a result of the quick return to pre-COVID-19 sales, Myers has said that he has had difficulty sourcing materials, and that supply chain slowdowns have left him worried about running out of food at times.

“About 90% of our beef was coming from one particular supplier,” he said. “And now, we had to source meat from three separate suppliers to get the volumes that we require.”

In addition to supply chain issues, the restaurant has faced difficulties in finding staff. Myers said that less than half of his 50 person staff have chosen to return to work and, as a result, he is being forced to pay overtime and begin hiring additional staff to fill the shortfall.

“Two of my main gals worked 70 hours this last week — each — covering for people who didn’t come back,” he said. “So we are hiring.”

Issues with supply chain and staffing have also impacted The Pheasant Bar and Grill, where owner Cherie Bumpaous said that only 10 of her 22 employees had chosen to return to work.

Bumpaous, who is a strong proponent of reopening and a vocal voice in planning the “Reopen Hermiston & Eastern Oregon” protest planned for May 30, said that she feels the reopening is a step in the right direction but nowhere near far enough. Bumpaous takes particular objection to the requirement that bars close at 10 p.m., though she said she plans to abide by the rules.

Despite issues with staffing and the supply chain, Bumpaous said she planned to open on Wednesday morning and expects a decent crowd.

“People can’t wait to get back in here,” she said. “People are excited to get back out there and back into public again.”

While some area restaurants reopened their lobbies immediately when that restriction was lifted Friday, others have posted online that they will need some time to prepare to meet requirements, such as spacing tables 6 feet apart. Some have said they are sticking to take-out for now.

Hermiston Chamber of Commerce CEO Kimberly Nevil said that the chamber is focusing on distributing accurate information and ensuring that businesses are ready to go as they reopen.

“Our members have done a very good job at pivoting through this,” she said. “Overall, our chamber members have been really adaptive.”

Nevil went on to add that many businesses have put in place practices that may remain after reopening, such as expanded ordering options and a more in-depth presence online.

The chamber has ordered nearly 200 yard signs for chamber members to display and advertise their reopening, and has worked with other chambers in the region to put together a “Back to Business Toolkit.” The toolkit, which was distributed electronically, includes information and signage from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as suggestions for creating a reopening plan.

“I’m excited for those that have opened their doors already and I respect the ones that aren’t quite ready yet,” Nevil said.

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