Dan Herbst and Geoff Hardman knew right away that they were not going to be able to continue making bagels at the east- and west-side locations of Cleveland Bagel. The week leading up to Governor DeWine’s restaurant shutdown order grew tenser by the day, culminating with a decision to stop production that coincided with DeWine’s.
“Saturday was so tense, with the staff and customers starting to get freaked out and everyone thinking that everyone else was a mini Chernobyl,” Herbst recalls. “After the press conference the next day, we shut it all down.”
The old-fashioned production method involves the hand-shaping, boiling and baking of thousands of bagels in close quarters – an arrangement that is the opposite of physical distancing, Herbst explains.
“We don’t use machines, we use people working together around the production table and it’s hard to maintain social distancing,” he notes.
Armed with more data and time to reflect, Herbst says that Cleveland Bagel is looking to get back in the bagel biz by the middle of May.
“We have a tentative plan to open up in a smaller fashion, but we want to do it right; we don’t want to contribute to any second wave,” he adds.
That means a scaled-back menu, fewer customers in the shop at one time, a requirement that all shoppers and staff wear masks and maybe even temperature checks at the door.
All of the above is predicted on the procurement of essential equipment like touchless thermometers, masks and hand sanitizer. And then there’s the issue of rounding up enough warm bodies to work two smaller shifts instead of one larger team. Herbst says that despite paying his employees a wage of $15 per hour or more, not all of them are eager to return.
“Out of a staff of 30 people, only seven said they were willing to come back right now,” Herbst admits. “Some are terrified, or if their situation is better on unemployment they don’t want to come back to work part-time. And who knows what’s going to happen with this virus. They might shut everything down again in a month or two.”
That said, the goal is to reopen the west-side shop by May 14th or 15th with the east-side shop to follow.