Gopher’s Grill in Effingham on Wednesday announced via its Facebook page that one of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19.
“We found out this morning that a Gopher’s employee has tested positive for COVID-19,” read the post. “We will be closing immediately to protect both our employees and customers. This closure includes all dine-in and carryout services.”
Acting with total transparency, Gopher’s Grill listed all of the shifts the employee worked over previous week: Aug. 10 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 9 and 8, and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Aug. 7.
Kevin Hoene, one of three owners of Gopher’s Grill, described in an interview their course of action after receiving the news of the positive test.
“Our GM/Co-Owner Nick (Schuette) was notified Wednesday morning. We immediately closed the restaurant and notified employees through our internal Facebook employee page about the shifts worked by an infected employee. The owners got on a quick conference call about how we should proceed,” Hoene said. “We wanted to be transparent with everyone – customers and employees. We quickly posted our closure on Facebook and Instagram to make sure customers wouldn’t be coming in to eat. Nick and his crew started the process of deep-cleaning and sanitizing our entire facility while we wait for more guidance from the health department.
“We encouraged all employees to get tested if they had any symptoms or were possibly exposed and provided different options and facilities to get tested. We are awaiting guidance from the Health Department on plans before we can safely reopen.”
While the transparency isn’t technically required of any business or restaurant that closes under similar circumstances, Hoene said they felt that they took the best route for the sake of public health.
“We all felt transparency was best. We didn’t want to try to remain open through this or close for a few days without an explanation,” Hoene said. “We know some of our customers and people on our team are elderly or immunocompromised or have friends and family that are at greater risk – letting people know they could have possibly been exposed was the responsible and moral thing to do.”
Hoene explains the difficulties of operating day-to-day during the pandemic.
“This pandemic has been difficult on a lot of businesses, especially dine-in restaurants. When restrictions were first implemented, we had to close all services because we weren’t equipped to handle drive-through or carryout/delivery service,” Hoene said. “We got to work making some changes internally and added online ordering to our website, which allowed us to more effectively offer curbside carryout service.
“When outdoor dining was permitted, we rented a tent for our back parking lot and completed our garden seating along Jefferson, but the social-distancing measures we took limited the amount of seating we could offer. Adding indoor seating when it was permitted has increased our seating capacity, and we continue to be very diligent about cleaning and sanitizing our facility.”
Following the post, Gopher’s Grill has received overwhelmingly positive feedback in regards to its transparency.
“It was nice to see the positive feedback on our social media accounts, but that wasn’t really something we thought about,” Hoene said. “We just felt being transparent was the right thing to do. We felt it was best to let people know if they could have possibly been exposed to help prevent people from possibly spreading it to others.”}
Gopher’s Grill is awaiting guidance from the health department before making any plans on reopening.