ASHLAND Launching a business is a challenge at the best of times, and local entrepreneurs say the coronavirus pandemic is making it still more difficult for them to open their doors as scheduled.
Moreover, the inability to bring customers inside will severely curtail the cash flow that is essential in the first months of operation.
Owners of three local startups said consequences of the pandemic are forcing them to delay or downsize their openings, and in at least one case, endangering survival before the first sale is made.
When Mikal Miller rented and began to remodel the space that formerly housed Alma’s Italian, she did so with a plan and a budget calling for an April 4 opening of The Mill Cafe and Bakery on 15th Street at Greenup Avenue.
Now, with orders from Frankfort forbidding restaurants to serve customers inside, Miller worries about making ends meet.
“It’s bad. I had a certain amount of money to open and the April 4 date is a big deal for me. I put my life savings in this and if we don’t open, I will run out of money,” she said.
Whether she sells product or not, she still has to pay rent, utilities, wages to an employee and other business expenses, she said.
She does have one option — delivery and carryout — and that is what she is counting on to carry her through the social-distancing demands of the pandemic.
“We decided that if we didn’t open on time we wouldn’t be able to at all, so we will offer pickup and delivery starting next week, and hope that will support us enough to get to our grand opening whenever we are able to,” she said.
First up on her delivery and takeout menu will be the breads, pastries and cookies she perfected as a graduate of one of the nation’s top culinary schools, and box lunches consisting of specialty sandwiches, sides, and cookies.
Richard and Shelly Ritchie were planning on an early May opening for their new venture, Whit’s Frozen Custard. They have been remodeling a storefront in the 1500 block of Winchester Avenue, adjacent to the former G.C. Murphy building, itself under restoration by owner E.B. Gevedon M.D.
They may miss the target opening date but are still working and hoping to open by early June, Richard Ritchie said.
“There’s a lot of concern, but as entrepreneurs we’ve got to look to the future,” he said. “We’re proceeding on and we hope by the time we get all this past people will be excited about getting out and having something to look forward to.”
The Ritchies currently are installing drywall, part of a complete remodel of the space, and pandemic concerns result in slowdowns in every facet of the opening process, such as scheduling the electrical inspection for which the structure is ready.
Whit’s is not Ritchie’s only business — his other is a spray-on bedliner company in Ashland — but that business also will suffer, he said. He already has had a couple of cancellations.
Bill and Christy Bare are remodeling the former C.R. Thomas building and are planning a restaurant of their own. Their business plan called for sinking half a million dollars into the building.
They also just took over the Wild Horses Grill and Cantina on Carter Avenue with plans to convert it to another restaurant format.
They will continue with their plan, part of which was to temporarily close and remodel the Wild Horses building anyway, Bill Bare said.
The Bares have several businesses and about 100 employees and are trying to find work to keep as many on the payroll as possible, because food service workers have few job prospects in their field as long as the restaurant shutdown continues.
“Financially it’s more difficult. Our cash flow is significantly reduced. But we’re diversified,” he said.
“We’re a stable company and we can take a little bit of a financial hit to help our employees” he said. If workers cannot serve food in a restaurant they can pick up equipment, do construction or fulfil other of his company’s needs and make enough money to weather the storm, he said.
“That’s the message you’ve got to get out there. We’ll do our part. We’ll get through it. And we’ll be stronger,” he said.
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