Many restaurants in Yellowstone County will open their doors to customers for the first time in over a month on Monday.
Back in March, restaurants were temporarily ordered to shut down due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19. Since then, owners have had to make adjustments, moving to take out or delivery only and some shutting down altogether.
“You learned a lot about this time by getting to spend a lot more time at home with family,” said Sean Graves, owner of Montana Brewing Company and Hooligans in downtown Billings. “But you also realize how important a job is to your mental well-being… also how important it is for you to see other people.”
When the shut down was announced, Graves made the decision to close his restaurants completely, as opposed to moving to the take-out model adopted by many other area establishments.
When they open their doors again on Monday, it will be with 87 of their 100 employees.
“A new normal is going to be pretty interesting,” Graves said. “I mean time will tell as we start our phase one on Monday.”
A few blocks away, preparations to reopen are underway at The Buffalo Block, one of Billings’ newest restaurants.
“I think everybody is tip toeing into this,” said majority owner Rick Larson. “It’s going to be a different environment than what we had before.”
The Buffalo Block, an upscale steakhouse, opened their doors in October.
“We kind of knew the first year we were opening at the end of the busy season,” Larson said. “We had a good October, November, December and we knew after that it would slow down a little…then all of a sudden this hit and it threw a monkey wrench into it.”
Larson said he expects they will miss another busy season this year, with a major downturn in tourism due to nationwide shutdowns.
“Its tough, I mean everybody is going through the same thing,” said Larson. “We will make it through it, it will just be a different world for another six months until we know where we are at. ”
The Buffalo Block did offer take out during the shutdown and Larson said they are fortunate to have retained and paid all of their staff throughout the shutdown.
Just as important as it is for restaurants, bars and casinos to do their part in Phase 1 of re-opening the state, Graves said it is just as important for the public to adhere to guidelines.
Graves believes if we were to go into a shutdown again, many restaurants, including his own, would not survive it.
“It would be absolutely catastrophic,” said Graves. “We can’t afford to give out thousands of dollars worth of food, we can’t afford to dump beer down the drain that we can’t use again. We just can’t do that. It’s just gonna be really important for people to follow the phases as we lift this and get back to normal and if everyone does their part as a community we can do this.”
More than 80% of restaurants in Yellowstone County have been approved to reopen for business Monday.