Restaurant employees lose jobs, Chamber offers support to local business

Terre Haute restaurant owners are facing difficult times. They were forced to close their dining rooms and have tough conversations with staff.

Posted: Mar 18, 2020 5:44 PM
Updated: Mar 18, 2020 6:38 PM

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) - Terre Haute restaurant owners are facing difficult times. They were forced to close their dining rooms and have tough conversations with staff.

"I'm freakin' the heck out to be honest."

Claudine Hann is the co-owner of Fifi's Lunch Box. Like other restaurants across Indiana and Illinois, its dining room was forced closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hann had to find other ways to serve customers. Now, Fifi's is offering carryout and delivery. Hann was unable to avoid laying off staff. She says she's gone from 20 employees down to three.

"As soon as I found out unemployment was available and it goes on a layoff I suggested to all my staff that I'm not able to use to immediately file for unemployment as a layoff for now."

Another Terre Haute business, J. Ford's Black Angus, is suffering the same loss. Owners Jeff and Kelly Ford had to layoff 90% of their staff.

Kelly Ford says, "We will survive. We'll all survive but it's not going to be easy and we will need help."

J. Ford's is also shifting to carryout and limited delivery.

Jeff Ford says, "We're still going to provide great food, a great service, a great product. It's just, it's in a to-go box now so hopefully all the local restaurants feel the love of the community when people need to eat."

All these restaurant owners say they understand people need to take care of their families first. They hope customers choose to shop local if they're able.

"What are some different ways we can work together to help promote them, help share that information that the have going on."

The Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce and the West Central Indiana Small Business Development Center have partnered to lead business owners through this uncertain time.

West Central Indiana Small Business Development Center Regional Director Courtney Chipol says, "If any individual is feeling overwhelmed then they can look at that and take it probably times 10 and that's how our local business owners are feeling."

The organizations are hosting strategy sessions with local restaurants and retailers. They're doing this through conference calls and video chats.

Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce President Kristin Craig says, "We're going to be in this for a little while. Nobody really knows what that end date looks like and so we've got to do everything we can to work together to keep them up and moving."

The chamber has created a restaurant guide on its website. It details all the local businesses open and offering to-go and delivery in Terre Haute.

"Small businesses are the life-blood of our economy and this is going to be a really, it's a tough time for all businesses but it's a really tough time for our small businesses, especially those restaurants."

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