March 8, 2021

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

Area restaurants, like Old No. 1, make adjustments in response to government-mandated closure

Sam Oellien wears a smile while delivering curbside to a customer Thursday, March 19, at Old No. 1 in Morris. Old No. 1 is just one of several restaurants offering take out services through the COVID-19 pandemic. Brooke Kern / Stevens County Times

Donny Wohlers of the Old No. 1 Bar and Grill probably speaks for all the food-service businesses in Morris when he says the announcement from the governor of a mandatory bar and restaurant closure was shocking. 

Reality set in the next day when he sat down with 34 employees and told all but a handful that they would be out of a job until the ban was lifted. This was one of the hardest things he has ever had to do and literally brought tears to his eyes. Those laid off employees will be able to get unemployment but for those who were only working part-time, unemployment will be of little help. 

Between Wohlers, Matt (Manager) and a few employees, the Old No. 1 intends to provide take out, curb-side pickup and home or business deliveries. Wohlers stated that all the events in the Southside have been cancelled through April 1 and he expects the April events to also be lost. He is hoping that the call in orders, deliveries and curbside pick-ups will help them stay in business for a few weeks, maybe even until the ban is lifted.

We have heard some concerns in the community that maybe it is not safe to order take-out food,” Wohlers added. “ It is important to understand that restaurants are required to comply with very strict health standards. We all have food certification standards that we do follow. If you felt safe eating in a restaurant before this, you should continue to feel safe eating takeout.”

Wohlers is concerned that this ban could be devastating to the community. “It will be a loss for the City of Morris,” he stated. For some businesses, with the owners and family members also working there, it will be a big challenge to stay afloat as that is their only source of income. When he recently picked up breakfast to go from another restaurant, his visit with the owner revealed a similar state of shock and deep concern.

Wohlers is also the chair of the Stevens County Food Shelf, so he has been putting in extra time trying to organize the increased need, and the increased donations. Currently, he has opened up the Southside for drop-offs. He will enlist his teenage children to help organize and move the food from the Southside to the food shelf.  “I’m pretty sure they would rather be back in school!” Wohlers commented.

Old No. 1 does have a lot of extra  food on hand as they were planning for some big events. As yet, Wohlers has not decided what to do with this. However, he would love to try to donate some to the elderly who live on little or nothing. If he can figure out who and where they are, and the logistics of getting prepared meals delivered directly to them, that would be his first choice. 

Of course it is important to keep it all in perspective. Wohlers knows that he is not alone in his struggle. All the bar and restaurant owners are in the same position, and small businesses on main street are certain to suffer as people stop going out or decide to purchase more items on-line. But the show of support from the community has been overwhelming. And if it is possible to say there is a silver lining, it is that this community really does take care of each other. 

“When I started the business 23 years ago, I had no idea where it would take me,” Wohlers stated. “Over the years, I have been blessed to have the customer support that allowed me to expand and grow the business. At times it seemed like we were always growing. I never took that for granted. On rare occasions, when sales would be down, it seemed that somehow I would experience a good day or a good weekend and I would thank God for giving me the support I needed.”

“Now we are faced with unusual and difficult circumstances. As we all try to understand and react to this crisis, ‘business as usual’ won’t work. With a limited crew we intend to continue to provide food to our community through curb-side pickup and home/business delivery.” You can give them a call to hear their specials or check them out on their website. See more information about how to contact them in their Business Showcase story on page 16.

Lastly, Wohlers wanted to thank all the customers and community members who have supported them over the years and recently. “We would not be here without you and we look forward to the day in the near future when we can announce business as usual.”

Katie Erdman