The restaurant industry has taken a hard hit this year with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Charles County Economic Development Department (EDD) has worked with local restaurants to access and apply for business relief resources. The Greene Turtle, a popular sports bar and family restaurant in La Plata, has stayed afloat by quickly pivoting their business model and taking advantage of business relief resources like the most recent COVID-19 Restaurant Relief Grant.
The Greene Turtle is a local hangout for the community, where families gather together in the restaurant, friends meet up for drinks, and sports fans and teams come to watch games or celebrate their own wins.
“We’re definitely a bar-based restaurant,“ said Meredith Wagner, Marketing Manager for The Greene Turtle. “We went from that atmosphere and type of business to strictly carryout and delivery only. And, that was literally overnight.”
In March of 2020, they had to lay off the majority of their team members, and management staff ran the day-to-day operations with a new carryout and delivery business model. At the beginning of the pandemic, sales were down 75%.
“Within 2020, we definitely went through a lot of changes,” said Wagner. “We went from only carryout and delivery, and then being able to open up for outdoor dining for a time, and then indoor dining with a lot of restrictions.” The restaurant is now open for indoor dining at 50% capacity.
“To increase sales, we did a lot of social media pushes,” said Wagner. “Especially when we were only doing carryout and delivery.” They also had daily specials and brought in third-party delivery services like Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats to expand delivery. Those services, however, charge the restaurant 30% on every order, so it was a costly expense.
“Even with the sales decline, we stayed true to who we are as a restaurant and being involved in the community,” said Wagner. “Even with all the extra expenses, we offered all first responders and nurses 50% of any to-go order as we know they were on the front lines working hard and needed to be recognized.”
The Greene Turtle applied for the Charles County Restaurant Relief Grant at a time when there were many uncertainties and unknowns. The grant was made possible when the State of Maryland provided additional funds to the Counties to make grants to restaurant businesses that had been financially affected by the COVID crisis. Charles County Government received almost $660,000 in funding for this program.
“We were able to access the grant through the EDD,” said Wagner. “We are so appreciative of them and when it came out. We didn’t know how long this was going to go on, and all the while, we were spending more.” Their extra costs included supplies for carryout and delivery, third party services with a 30% fee per order, PPE for staff, and extra products to clean and sanitize.
Wagner’s marketing role shifted during the pandemic, where she assisted with grant applications and keeping an eye out for additional assistance. Working with the EDD, she said, “The process for the grant was very simple. I think they took the time to make it as easy as possible for businesses. It was already a stressful time when applications came out, but the process seemed easy. The communication with them was ideal.”
Additional assistance is on the way, thanks to the State of Maryland’s 2021 Relief Act which created new business support programs to help those affected by the COVID crisis. The EDD plans to launch another restaurant grant program in April. Details coming soon.