CASPER, Wyo. – The parking lot in an aging Mills strip mall was bustling during a recent lunch rush.
It was busy enough that one could forget, if just for a moment, that businesses and communities around the world were struggling under a global pandemic.
But the scene inside Bid’s Place dining room was a stark contrast to its busy parking lot.
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It’s dark in the formally busy Italian and pizza place, with the tables covered chairs tucked and culinary items nowhere to be found. A lone employee sits at a desk near the front door, placed with purpose to stop anyone from walking beyond several feet.
This is a life during coronavirus, where social distancing means empty dining rooms. But with a lot of hustle and some luck, a number of businesses are keeping their kitchens and employees busy.
The COVID-19 pandemic had been spreading steadily around the globe for months before arriving in Wyoming with enormous force in early March.
Events and schools were canceled, and businesses that relied on social gatherings closed or modified.
Most dine-in restaurants and bars in Casper closed temporarily, and it remains to be seen how many can reopen in the future.
According to the Associated Press, The National Restaurant Association warns the outbreak could cost America 5 million to 7 million jobs and hundreds of billions in losses.
Some Casper restaurants are doing everything they can to keep the ovens hot and at least some people employed.
“We’ve been able to keep all of our employees on full-time, so the support of Casper has been tremendous,” said Bid’s Place store manager Drew Reeves.
During the pandemic’s first few days, Reeves says Bid’s Place modified their dining room by removing anything they could that was “touchable” and constantly disinfecting.
Soon enough, state health orders came down that all dining rooms should close, and Bid’s changed again.
The parking lot became something echoing back to the old drive-ins, with “car hops” taking orders and delivering food right to the customer’s vehicles.
Pizza is comfort food, and it’s fast and portable. It’s the perfect dish for the apocalypse, and during busy times Bid’s slings them as fast as they can. They also offer take-and-bake.
“Pasta dishes aren’t really happening anymore, but pizza is still busy,” said Reeves. “It gives people a sense of security.”
Jason Groves, operations manager at Ludovico Farm to Wood Flame, describes the situation as “better than we anticipated.”
Ludovico serves big New York-style pies from its special wood-fired ovens, but the recently-opened restaurant in west Casper’s Mesa area was conceptualized to give a high quality sit-down culinary experience.
Now there’s no sitting, so the pies are the stars.
“We’ve had a surprising response to our delivery and curbside service,” said Groves. “This has been a huge adjustment on the fly.”
Delivery was never a priority for the restaurant, said Groves, but the service was quickly added as the situation became dire. Menu items have been scaled back dramatically, and the chef has developed a few mobile-friendly items to compensate.
Groves says even with the successful delivery service, the lack of dining room menu options and drink sales has forced them to cut staff hours, but they’ve avoided layoffs so far.
“We’re doing well considering the circumstances, we certainly are not making the sales and revenue we made prior to the lockdown,” he said.
Casper has no shortage of Asian restaurants, but many have closed. Even those that normally offer delivery.
J.S. Chinese Restaurant in downtown Casper, however, has remained open by adding delivery and curbside services.
“Delivery is going alright right now,” said J.S. owner Cindy Tang, “but since no one can eat here, we’re not making any profits right now.”
Tang said she’s staying open mainly for her employees, some of whom are worried about paying their bills.
“I try to give some meals to my employees to help them out,” she said.
Tang is aware of a large number of Chinese restaurants across the country shutting down, but she is unsure how things will shake out in Wyoming.
“We’re doing the best we can right now and hope that everyone is staying healthy,” she said.
While not technically a restaurant, Grant Street Grocery and Market is in a unique situation.
While mainly a boutique neighborhood grocery store, they also serve sandwiches-to-order and different breakfast items during the week. The store also offers house-made take-and-bake meals, which recently have become very popular.
“Not only do we have to different things because we’re open as a grocery store, but these are changes we have to do for our neighbors as a community,” said co-owner Lindsey Grant.
They’ve added produce along with staples such as flour, sugar, eggs and cereal, said Grant, which are normally not carried in a specialty market such as Grant Street.
“We’re just looking out for the neighborhood and helping them so they don’t have to shop at a big (grocery) store,” she said.
The store is also making use of delivery services like DoorDash.
“We’ve seen a lot of generosity from people buying lunches for other people who are working during these hard times,” said Grant. “I think that’s been wonderful to see people coming together and supporting each other.”
Oil City News reporter Brendan LaChance contributed to this story.
The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:
What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.
If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.
Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.
For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home if you’re sick
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
- Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.