POA restaurants open for business

Rich Androff works in the Tanasi Bar & Grill kitchen.

Tellico Village Property Owners Association’s four restaurants are making their way back as the community reopens during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Toqua Sports Bar & Grill and Kahite Pub & Grill reopened inside May 4, Tanasi Bar & Grill opened May 22 and the Yacht Club opened its doors for dining Tuesday, Andy Fox, AWE Hospitality owner and operator, said.

Each location is operating with restrictions based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and guidance from the state and local level.

“Phase one was 50 percent capacity, 6 foot spacing of tables, no bar stools, all employees have to wear masks, everything has to be properly sanitized, resanitized, etc.,” Fox said. “So with the change to phase two, which happened last Friday, they lifted the capacity restriction, so there’s no capacity restriction per se. However, the tables still have to be spaced 6 feet and you still can’t have any bar stools. So the reality is from phase one to phase two for us, it didn’t change a thing. We couldn’t add a seat because what restaurants have this space, we do here (at the Yacht Club), but most restaurants the next person is right here.”

Fox said he, along with POA managers, department heads and board members, worked out a plan for getting everyone on the same page.

“Safety was the POA’s main concern when deciding to start reopening restaurants,” Beth Kuberka, POA marketing director, said in an email correspondence. “We wanted to be diligent in following the CDC guidelines. Together with AWE, we formed a plan to open slowly and test the waters. We were not sure if Villagers were ready to get out and about. That is the reason Toqua and Kahite opened first, and once business picked up, we added Tanasi. That opening has been very successful.”

Opening golf course restaurants before the Yacht Club “made sense,” Fox said.

“We wanted to not only get some restaurants open in the Village so people could actually go sit down. Plus the golf courses are full, so it made sense to open the golf course restaurants first because golf courses are full, and we’re still offering the to-go here,” Fox said. “So for those who are still not venturing out, we still have a to-go business that’s happening here.”

Despite early success, Fox knows some will be hesitant to dine in. Takeout is offered at each restaurant but has been especially popular at the Yacht Club. He said the service averaged at least 100 orders per day, and on Mother’s Day alone the restaurant provided 400 meals.

Fox said Tanasi’s reopening May 22 was “very successful.”

“I mean obviously we live in a very elderly community so some of them have been a little reluctant to come back, but we’ve been lucky at least at this location the Village has come out and supported us after we’ve been closed for about two months,” Chava Medina, Tanasi restaurant general manager, said. “Honestly, it’s been busier than I thought it would be. There have been days where we thought we were going to be just slow as can be and it ended up being really busy to the point where we almost ran out of certain items on the menu. So it’s been surprisingly busy. I guess it might be because people in the Village, certain crowds tend to go to certain restaurants.”

Fox knows revenue will be down this year, which is why he has asked managers to operate “as efficiently and tight as possible.” Employees were asked to seek unemployment benefits during closures.

He said business right now was “half of what it should be this time of year.”

“I mean Toqua was completely closed, Tanasi was completely closed, so you’re talking about zero revenue,” Fox said. “Toqua was five weeks, Tanasi was eight weeks of zero revenue. Still got to pay for the building insurance, you still got to pay for utilities. I still was paying for my salary managers and their health insurance and permits and licenses and all that kind of stuff. It’s substantial. ... Our hope because we’re in such a tight-knit community is that, look, throughout the year there’s tons and tons of people in this community that go and they travel.

“They RV, they go to Europe, they go on cruises, they go visit here, they go visit there,” he added. “Chances are they’re not going to be doing a lot of travel this year, so they’re going to stay. Hopefully that will help us to build our revenues, not just back to normal levels but hopefully maybe even better than they were last year when we come to the second half, well maybe August to December, and try and recoup it.”

Safety measures are being taken.

“We’re asking the questions when people walk into the door,” Fox said. “All of my people have masks on, including the kitchen staff. We’re sanitizing everything. Everything table-wise is individually packed. There’s not salt and pepper shakers or sugar caddies. If you need some sugar, I’ll give you two packs of sugar so nobody’s touching anything. Nobody else that comes in is touching anything. Hand washing, sanitizing hands. I mean honestly, every one of my — every single one of my employees before they came back to work had to watch a COVID video that the health department put out and every single one of them had to watch that, bring their certification ticket or document.”

He remains hopeful revenues will improve.

“At the end of the day it’s about the community feeling safe that they can go out again,” Fox said. “Hopefully they can feel safe enough and come to the Yacht Club and have dinner, sit at the bar and have a drink, and if they feel like they don’t feel safe enough to go on the river cruise in Europe, OK, but at least hopefully they feel good enough about enjoying what we got here with boating and golfing and tennis and the beautiful facilities we’ve got here.”