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Business & Economics

Flavor Moments: Billings Restaurants Easing Back Into Sit Down Dining

Exterior of the Buffalo Block restaurant.
Stella Fong
Yellowstone Public Radio
Buffalo Block opened at the end of last year and was just getting into a business stride.

Flavor Moments recently checked in with three Billings restaurants owners about how they stayed afloat during Montana’s month long stay at home order. In this week’s Flavor Moment, Stella Fong heads back to Bistro Enzo, Buffalo Block and Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion to hear how the first week back to sit down dining went.

With bars and restaurants reopening, Bistro Enzo Chef James Honaker shares, "The first day back was good. Lots of regular customer who braved out."

Those who came found changes.

"We can’t just do one time frame any more. This restaurant was famous for doing 5:45 to 6:45, but we can’t do that anymore. People are adjusting, eating a little earlier or a little bit later because we only take 18 per half hour. The restaurant never has more than 60 or so people," Honaker says.

"The rule is six feet between people. With the dining room setup, there’s more than six feet on a lot of tables because you just can’t fit anything between two tables and that’s just the way it is. We are using upstairs and the restaurant sat 148 and not it is seating about 70," Honaker adds. 

Aside from more space, new sanitation procedures have been put in place.

"We are using two what we call back waiters but one of their jobs is to whenever they are not busy which most of the time when there are two. They have a checklist of things to clean," Honaker says. 

Also, with stringent cleaning procedures, the waitstaff is wearing masks.

"That's a strange thing: to be in the dining room and having all the waitstaff wearing masks," Honaker says.

Honaker’s reopening is from help with monies through the Paycheck Protection Program.

"You have to use 75 percent of your loan for your payroll. Most of, I just say all except for a couple, are back. Some are working reduced hours, but they still get unemployment," Honaker says.

In adhering the health rules for reopening, costs have been incurred.

"I know what our fixed costs are per month because I learned in April and we’re not going to make it up this year. That’s the truth but perhaps we can break even this year," Honaker says. 

We now go downtown to Buffalo Block where the community also came to support the business.

"And as far our change, our crew had nothing but positive attitude towards all the changes. Obviously, they wanted to be safe for themselves. They want to make sure our guests are safe," General Manager Mitch Fox says. 

Buffalo Block opened at the end of last year and was just getting into a business stride.

"How much it is going to affect us? I don’t know. Based on what I am seeing now and base on what I am seeing our seating capacity, my best guess is we’re probably going to max out at a third of what would potentially be able to do," Fox says.

And why is that?

"We’ve lost a fair amount of seating and beyond just its seating capacity that we’ve lost, the bar is a huge impact. We don’t people coming out and patronizing the bar and especially this time of the year with the patio I would expect to be congregating around our fireplace," Fox says.

"Additionally, that doesn’t even take into account our banquet business. So if you look at the whole kit and caboodle we may be at 25 percent or even less," Fox added. 

Restaurants are facing uncertain and challenging times. Jimmy Li of Fancy Sushi Asian Fusion did not reopen and continues to do takeout.

Stella Fong hosts ‘Flavors Under the Big Sky’ every third Monday of the month on Yellowstone Public Radio.