As the COVID-19 pandemic began its sudden and confusing squeeze on America’s heartland in March, locally-owned restaurants wrestled with how best to serve their customers with limited and sometimes conflicting guidance.
“Bogey’s has an open kitchen, so most are familiar with our set up. We, and many other fast food restaurants, were not designed to keep people in the kitchen six feet apart. We all have big dining rooms and very small kitchens. Stations are one or two feet apart. Not six feet,” said Tyler Davis, General Manager, Bogey’s. “ There were many ‘recommendations’ at first that weren't necessarily requirements, but we followed them. Telling my employees that they should disregard those recommendations did not feel like the responsible thing to do. We even had to close down for two weeks when one of our employees was possibly exposed. This was very early on, but it was the right thing to do.”
Bogey’s, one of several Reno County restaurants who recently received Pathways to a Healthy Kansas grant funding from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, is familiar with trying to balance customer needs and expectations with better health practices. After all, a “burger and shake” place offering a salad bar and hummus with veggies on the menu is unique.
This commitment to community health not only was apparent in Bogey’s cautious approach to business practices after the pandemic began, but also in their efforts to support Reno County citizens in need. Thanks to some generous donors, Bogey’s was able to offer free kids meals for a time, and even gift cards for those struggling with food insecurity.
“We are trying our best to put food into the hands of people that are struggling. Our community has been great and through the support of many of our great long time customers, we had over $1,000 donated for families to use. It is times like this when we all come together. We here are determined to do our part. The restaurant industry is certainly competitive, but this disruption was beyond competition. Every single local place in Hutch is important to the community.”
The biblical parable of the mustard seed demonstrates the power of small things making a big impact. Buhler restaurant owner Karla Knechtal has certainly seen how her business, The Mustard Seed (also a Pathways to a Healthy Kansas recipient), has lived up to its name during this challenging transition.
“It was hard to navigate through. We had to let half of our staff go at first. We had to learn how to work with less people, and it took several weeks before we had things figured out. We’ve now been able to bring staff back, and have a better handle on how to serve our customers, but do so safely,” said Karla.
One way Karla and her staff quickly adapted to the community’s needs was by offering entire family meals to go. During these times of uncertainty and stress, a ready-made healthy meal to feed the family was a welcome menu item.
“People have really responded to this, and you know, it’s nice to be able to see people’s faces and know we’re helping out. And thanks to the salad containers we were able to purchase with the Pathways grant money, we’ve been adding cut-up fruit with our family meals. This has been popular with the kids, and I know parents are glad for that!”
In addition to meeting customers’ needs with curbside pick up and whole meals to go, The Mustard Seed has also been diligent to take care of other Reno County businesses.
“We try to buy as much local food as we can. The food supply issues make you a little more aware of where you’re getting your supplies. One of our most popular dishes is our pretzel ham sandwich, and of course we get our ham from Jackson Meat.”
Jackson Meat was another Pathways to a Healthy Kansas grant recipient, which demonstrates how wide of an impact this community investment had. Other Reno County restaurants participating in the Pathways program include The Traveling Bowl and Comfort & Joy food truck.
To find out more about the Pathways to a Healthy Kansas grant program, visit healrenocounty.org/pathways.
Above: Buhler restaurant The Mustard Seed responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing family-style meals to go. Funds from the Pathways to a Healthy Kansas grant provided the to-go bowls used for fruit salads.
• Mustard Seed
• Comfort & Joy
• The Traveling Bowl
• Bluebird Books & Cafe