25% occupancy has business owners doing the math

Another challenge is rehiring workers who had to be laid off and now are collecting jobless benefits

25% occupancy mandate has business owners doing the math

SHREVEPORT, La. (KSLA) — Anticipation is building for the partial reopening of Louisiana’s economy starting Friday.

One of business owners' first challenges is rehiring the workers who had to be laid off

Places ranging from churches to movie theaters and from fitness centers to nail salons can reopen with a limit of 25% of their normal capacity.

That also includes restaurants; businesses that may face some of the toughest challenges ahead.

So we traveled to two restaurants on either side of the Red River in Shreveport-Bossier City to hear what they’re expecting.

The drive-thru business already is brisk even days before their partial reopening at El Jimador Supremo Mexican Grill on Shreveport-Barksdale Highway.

“I’m excited. I’m a little scared. I’m not gonna lie,” co-owner Rosa Montes said with a laugh.

Their drive-thru and now their patio service, opened this month, are positive steps forward already.

But she also knows only bringing in 25% of their dine-in customers to start will be a financial challenge, especially since they must have a minimum of 10 employees working on a shift at all times.

“We are going to be losing money. But, I mean, it is what it is. I mean, we’re not going to cry over it. We’re just, we’re ready. And I am going to keep, still, my curbside business for the ones that, you know, don’t feel that safe over here.”

This challenge at El Jimador will continue for at least the 21 days of the governor’s Phase I of reopening.

Montes said she has a lot of things to think about but knows exactly where to start. “My main priority is being safe.”

We wanted to know if El Jimador drive-thru customers, like Casey Poole, will have any worries about the coronavirus being inside the restaurant when it reopens.

"No. I'm not worried about it. I mean, I feel they'll do what they need to do to make it clean and safe."

Her friends agreed as they visited in a parked SUV while waiting for their orders to come out.

As for Montes, she explained that her restaurant will not actually open Friday.

Instead, their doors will reopen Saturday.

“I know people are eager to come out and see us. But we’re going to wait a little bit and make sure everything’s organized, make sure everybody’s at a distance and make sure we sanitize everything first, the way it needs to be.”

Just a few miles east on the other side of the Red River is Ralph & Kacoo’s on Old Minden Road in Bossier City.

Right outside this well-known and long popular Cajun restaurant, we caught up with general manager Cezar Carroll midway through painting the sidewalk outside their front doors.

Carroll said their first big challenge is rehiring all the employees who had to be laid off nearly two months ago.

“Right now, workers are getting, still, the benefit. And they could still keep, you know, lingering on, trying to hang onto that. And I think it’s going to turn back around on them.”

In fact, Carroll told us he plans to hire potentially as many as 20 workers in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Ralph & Kacoo’s opened in Bossier City in 1969. Now 51 years later, Carroll said this business hasn’t survive this long just to give up now.

Instead, he predicted they’ll adapt and thrive, just like they have in the past. That’s despite all the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For so many years, I think we’re the only ones left standing. Along with Pete Harris and all those places, Don’s Seafood. All those places are dinosaurs along with us. And they’re closed down.”

And with well over 80 employees, R&K is a big operation. That's where Giovanni Lugo comes in.

As the executive chef, he has a lot on his plate as this restaurant prepares to partially reopen.

“I’m excited. Just making sure everyone’s up to par, overall, when it comes to ... rotation. Make sure everyone’s safe overall with the COVID-19 situation.”

This slow roll reopening is all part of the plan spelled out by Louisiana Gov. Governor John Bel Edwards with his stay-at-home order ending Friday and Phase I getting underway.

Carroll explained his restaurant can hold out for about four weeks at 25% capacity inside.

That’s good, considering Phase I is scheduled to last three weeks. But that is only if there are no delays.

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