Cedar Rapids restaurants adjust to remain in business through shutdown

Café Saint Pio in Czech Village on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Aaron Hosman/KCRG)
Café Saint Pio in Czech Village on Tuesday, May 19, 2020. (Aaron Hosman/KCRG)(KCRG)
Published: May. 19, 2020 at 5:02 PM CDT
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Last month, restaurant sales fell to their lowest level in over 35 years according to the National Restaurant Association, which left some restaurant owners wondering if their businesses will survive.

Café Saint Pio, in Cedar Rapids’ Czech Village, was one of the restaurants that decided to remain fully open over the last few months, but co-owner Brad Danielson said he had no other choice.

“I was like, unless the police come and shut us down, I was going to do our best to stay open and navigate this and still have some kind of revenue stream because I knew the bills would not stop coming in," Danielson said.

As a new business, Danielson said operating and personnel costs were adding up.

"The first month that this started I had a $2,100 hundred dollar flood insurance bill that needed to be paid, insurance, loan payments, credit cards, and all that stuff, they don't stop," Danielson said.

Even though making money was important, Danielson said staying open was also about hope.

“I consciously thought about wanting to be a place that people could look at, see the sign in the window and say okay there is some sense of normalcy," Danielson said.

Danielson said the first few weeks were hard. Revenue took a nosedive and he had to layoff three of his four employees. But, business leveled out. He credits that to their to-go style capabilities they already had in place.

"We had a walking Belgium waffle that we made into a sandwich and folded it in half and wrapped it in parchment with cherries and whipped cream on it so people can get it and just take it to go," Danielson said.

Monica Vernon, with the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District, said ensuring places like Café Saint Pio survive the pandemic is essential to the neighborhood's success.

"There is a lot of hope for the future, and you just can't have a district with just restaurants, you need the retail," Vernon said. "But you also really need the restaurants. Everybody needs to eat."

Vernon said it wasn’t easy for every business to make it through the shutdown.

“The reality of potentially having to close was I think smacking them right in the face, because of you can’t serve people, how do you afford your employees, and how do you afford your product?" Vernon said. "That’s why I’m so proud of them because they had to whip into high gear on adapting and changing to this new normal I guess is what we are calling it."

Another part of the Café's success is extended business hours.

"We decided to stay open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m." Danielson said. "So I was working all day, every day just to see if we made an extra $50 dollars a day from four to seven, there was a bill paid cause everything else slowed down. So we just decided to do that and it worked."

Café Saint Pio celebrates its one year anniversary on Friday, May 22.

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