Now with dine-in available, Sarber says restaurants typically have a waiting list each night as rooms fill to state-mandated capacities. To ensure safety, the brand hired a full-time “sanitation ninja”—a position that will extend beyond the pandemic—that does nothing but clean surfaces from open to close. Agave & Rye also educated staff on how to properly wash hands and implemented a sick policy that requires employees to stay home if they showcase any symptoms, COVID-related or not.
“All kinds of stuff like that just gave us confidence that we knew what we were doing, kept everybody's tummies full of yummy food and drinks, and also safe,” Sarber says.
Agave & Rye entered the pandemic with four stores and ended the year with six. The Rookwood, Ohio, location opened in September while another restaurant debuted in Troy, Ohio, in late November. The opening in Troy was so successful that carryout had to be shut down temporarily because of the influx of orders.
“I think everyone is still very cautious and taking what's going on with the pandemic very seriously,” Sarber says. “On the same note, with taking safety measures in hand, they also really, really need that escape. And Agave & Rye, as grateful as we are, gives them that with not anything that they really experienced before. I think that it's just a refreshing thing for them.”
Three stores are in Kentucky and the other three are in bordering Ohio—two states that have approached dining restrictions quite differently. Kentucky re-closed indoor dining on November 18, a ban that lasted about three and a half weeks. In Ohio, there is no capacity restriction. Instead, restaurants must ensure parties and employees are at least 6 feet apart.
Sarber says there hasn’t been too much of a difference between Kentucky and Ohio locations when dining rooms are available in both states—it’s just that Kentucky has taken a few more hits with the shutdown.
When Kentucky closed dining rooms for the second time, Agave & Rye took a different approach. Those who couldn’t be converted to off-premises or patio drove to Ohio locations to pick up shifts. That includes management, supervisors, bartenders, and servers. In some cases, Ohio employees gave up shifts to assist workers from Kentucky.