Towards the end of May, Kate Drury, owner of The Lemon Bar, had to make the gut-wrenching decision to temporarily close her restaurant due to the coronavirus pandemic. Though she briefly reopened for carry-out, with all of the ongoing changes in restrictions regarding occupancy, she was forced to make some tough choices.
One reason customers love The Lemon Bar is the intimate atmosphere. It’s a cozy restaurant in a relatively small space, and having to space tables far apart and figuring out the logistics for safe pickup orders was stressful.
“I made the call to close based on the company as a whole, and the safety given the size of the space,” says Drury, who also owns The Flying Cupcake.
Across all of her stores, Drury had to lay off 58 people whom she considered family.
“It was the worst day I ever had at work,” she says.
Though she permanently closed another business she owned, The Dancing Donut, she kept The Flying Cupcake open and knew, when the time was right, she would reopen The Lemon Bar, which has always been a popular lunch and brunch spot. Folks also enjoy having drinks and desserts there on weekend evenings.
After six months of being closed, Drury feels the time around the holidays is appropriate to reopen – Black Friday, to be exact.
The Lemon Bar looks a little different now. For instance, tables are set 6’ to 8’ apart.
“Before, those tables were crammed in there and that’s obviously not going to be the situation now,” Drury says.
The back room, which normally holds private parties, is not available for rent as Drury is using that space for additional seating. Though she has fielded quite a few calls from people asking about tentatively reserving it for showers and other parties, she’s had to say no.
The menu will be smaller because Drury doesn’t want to have more than two people in the tiny kitchen at once, whereas the restaurant previously had three or four. She promises, however, to sell all her customer favorites, including Brussels sprouts and chicken salad sandwiches.
The eatery will continue to take reservations as they always have, and may also incorporate online reservations. In addition, they will continue offering takeout, online ordering and DoorDash.
Drury is thankful to her empathetic patrons who recognize that times are tough in the food service industry, and have stepped up their tipping and purchased gift cards.
“Our customers are amazing,” Drury says. “When we switched to just carry-out, we had tons of orders and I know some of them were doing it to make sure we stayed afloat.”
When Drury and her staff were forced to offer takeout exclusively, customers weren’t getting the benefit of the great atmosphere, and Drury appreciates their loyalty.
Drury recognizes that when it comes to dining out, the biggest factor is making sure customers feel safe.
“We will iron out how we do our service to determine if customers will come to the counter, or if waitstaff will go to the tables,” she says. “We’ll make sure customers are directed in a safe way.”
Initially the eatery will be open Wednesdays through Saturdays, and stay that course until spring when they will reevaluate.
Drury is happy that the reopening coincides with the holidays, during which she typically goes all-out with holiday decor. She won’t put up as many decorations this year since they can take up valuable social distancing space. At the same time, decorative holiday trees can act as dividers between tables.
Drury, who has been a small-business owner for 22 years, says that while she jokes around a lot, she has never taken anything about her business lightly. She’s made it through some tough times, including the recession in 2008 and 2009. This year, however, has taught her to loosen the reins a bit and recognize that some things are outside of her control.
“What has happened this year, there is nothing I could have done about it so I’m at peace with it,” says Drury, who admits the ordeal has been stressful.
For instance, she says laying off staff members was extremely painful. Some of them still came in without pay to help, which touched her.
“We’re like a family, and we’ll keep plugging away,” Drury says. “I’ll be okay. Everyone will be okay. It’s more important that nobody gets sick.”
For now, Drury is doing what she does best – winging it.
“I feel confident we will make it to the other side,” she says. “There may be more changes to come, but I feel good about our reopening plan.”
The Lemon Bar is located at 95 East Pine Street in Zionsville. For more information, call 317-344-0472 or visit thelemonbaronline.com.