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Website database supports local South Bend businesses during COVID-19 pandemic

| Wednesday, March 25, 2020

On March 16, Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb announced the closure of bars, nightclubs and restaurants “to in-person patrons” due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he stipulated that restaurants could still provide takeout and delivery services at least through the end of March. 

Upon this news, South Bend designer Jacob Titus realized the closures would greatly affect the small businesses he knew and loved in town.

Titus and a group of friends were beginning to look for ways to help the community when Kevin Lawler, who owns local restaurant Baker & Rose, pointed them in the direction of locally owned restaurants. 

“Kevin was telling us just how challenging this was going to be for a lot of restaurants in South Bend, and that it was likely that some wouldn’t make it out on the other side,” Titus said. 

Titus and his group of friends, including Dustin Mix, Maria Gibbs and John Gibbons — decided to “forgo anything other than essential responsibilities for [their] own companies” and spend their time doing projects related to supporting small businesses.

“All of our work outside of this — design work, photography work and stuff —  is centered around South Bend, trying to make something a dynamic place to work and live,” he said. “So the prospect of these small businesses suffering and then some not existing after this … I’m not very interested in that.” 

That’s when “Take out COVID-19,” a website which has now been shared across multiple platforms, from Instagram stories to Facebook posts, was created. The website lists a wide variety of restaurants and cafes in the South Bend area and surrounding regions in a database that are still offering social distancing dining options — such as takeout and curbside pickup — while their dine-in service as been closed.

Graphic courtesy of Jacob Titus

The tagline of the site reads, “COVID-19 is an international crisis –– but it’s also a local one,” and asks residents to show “how [the restaurants] how important they are to us.” 

Initially, Titus looked into building a website that would allow people to purchase gift cards but decided against it when thinking about the future following the pandemic. 

“With all the uncertainty for restaurants coming out on the other side, like us likely being  in a recession, and some may not open right away,” Titus said. “… The prospect of them having sold a bunch of gift cards for some is really challenging them. They would have to think about how to honor those.” 

So, Titus and his friends contacted as many local restaurants as possible through Facebook and phone calls to add their information to the website. 

“We’ve definitely heard that business is way down for them, and so we hear a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “But in terms of response to the site, we’ve heard a lot of like general, ‘we’re really grateful for this.’”

Lawler, whose restaurant Baker & Rose is set to reopen in the old Dainty Maid location downtown sometime this year, said he hoped to do something to both support restaurants and also encourage people to social distance and stay home. 

“We wanted to make sure that people were doing things that we all need to do as a society to help,” Lawler said. “You know, make sure that it’s you people as possible are exposed to this virus and keep the general public as healthy as possible. But we also want to be supportive of all the small businesses in town. And without the walk in traffic, it’s going to be a really hard time for these restaurants.”

Since the closure of dine-in restaurants in Indiana, Lawler said restaurants have been working hard to find alternatives to still serve the community. 

“A lot of them aren’t normally designed to be takeout or to be delivered, but they’re adjusting to that during this period, and we wanted to help highlight places that are doing that and encourage people in town to support some of these places that they don’t really go for takeout and delivery,” he said.

The restaurants featured in the database offer options ranging from curbside pickup to ready-to-freeze family meals and includes information on how to order. 

Residents can also submit their own restaurants they would like to be featured in the database through a form on the website.

Lawler said the experience of being a local restaurant owner helped him understand the gravity of the situation for other businesses.

“For me, I think just understanding how challenging it is to own a restaurant to operate a restaurant,” he said. “It’s a tough business and … a lot of people that work in restaurants kind of get to know each other, and support each other.

“We eat at each other’s restaurants and, and we know how important restaurants are to just the culture of the city. It‘s where you spend your time, it’s where you go to celebrate things.”

The stay-at-home order for Indiana is currently in effect until April 7, but could be extended. 

In the meantime, Lawler said while it is good for people to cook food at home, residents could make ordering from a local restaurant part of their new routine.

“I think it’s hard to know how long this is all going to go on and it’s a scary time for a lot of reasons, but as long as places are able to go in and make food, I thought the best thing we can do in the short term is to make it be a part of your routine to still order from places. 

“And obviously, people are stocking up and cooking at home, and that’s great too. But whether it’s a couple of meals during the week or you pick various times throughout the week that you’re gonna support some of your favorite local restaurants … I think that’s really important too.”

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About Mariah Rush

Mariah is a junior majoring in American Studies and minoring in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She is from the great city of South Bend, and serves as Managing Editor of The Observer. You can find her always on Twitter at @mariahfrush.

Contact Mariah