CORONAVIRUS

Coronavirus shutdown not stopping some local restaurants from expansion

Saucy Focaccia, Taco Depot 2, Crab Attack Cajun Seafood Shack move forward with new locations

General manager Joshua McBurney prepares an order at Saucy Focaccia in Cedar Rapids on Monday, April 27, 2020. (Andy Abe
General manager Joshua McBurney prepares an order at Saucy Focaccia in Cedar Rapids on Monday, April 27, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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When the coronavirus pandemic and related shutdowns arrived in Iowa, plans to open a new location of Cedar Rapids burger restaurant Saucy Focaccia were already well underway.

The lease had been signed, renovations to the Westdale space at 2360 Edgewood Rd., SW, Cedar Rapids, were well underway, staff had been hired, utility bills needed to be paid. So, at a time when many restaurant owners were laying people off and worrying how long they’d be able to stay open, Paul Andreasen decided to go ahead and open the new Saucy Focaccia as planned.

“There were commitments made prior to this ... ultimately, we were just put in a position where we had to open, or we would have to keep paying for something that wasn’t generating any revenue,” he said.

The decision has paid off. Andreasen said when the shutdown first happened, revenue at the Saucy Focaccia location at 5100 Fountains Dr., Cedar Rapids dropped, but it has picked back up over the last two weeks, as customers responded to the restaurant’s carryout options. In fact, he said sales are higher than they were before the shut down, and rather than laying people off, he has hired. When the new location opened April 20, it was even busier.

“We just feel really lucky to be in the community we are in. It seems like people are really out trying to support local businesses,” he said. “I know not everybody is in the same boat; some people have had to close their doors. We just feel really lucky we were able to keep open and get everybody back to full hours.”

Jimmy Ramirez, owner of Taco Depot, at 2665 Edgewood Parkway in Cedar Rapids, hasn’t let the shut down slow down his plans to open Taco Depot 2. Like Andreasen, he said work renovating the former Long John Silvers location at 3801 First Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, has been going on for months. He’s also hopeful the new location will do especially well right now — it has a drive through window built in, which was part of the reason he chose the building in the first place. That business plan is more relevant than ever right now.

“We have a lot of people driving by, saying ‘We’re ready, we’re ready for you,’” Ramirez said.

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He said he had hoped to be open already, but work on the building slowed down after state shutdown orders. He hopes to have Taco Depot 2 open in the next couple of weeks.

We’re just saying to people, ‘Thanks for patience,’” he said. “We’re so excited to get ready and hope it’s soon back to normal and safe for everyone.”

At Crab Attack Cajun Seafood Shack, owners Stephanie Johnson and Gerald Seals also are planning to open soon at 1117 First Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, perhaps as early as Monday, despite the shutdown. They’ll offer curbside pickup of the Cajun seafood boils, fried crab legs and crawfish etouffee that Johnson’s sister and co-owner Nichole Davis cooks up.

“When we originally announced the grand opening, we had a lot of support from Cedar Rapids in general, so we felt it was only right we still open,” Seals said.

Johnson and Seals also co-own Prestige Cleaning Services together and said that business has picked up since the pandemic started. A restaurant, they acknowledged, might be more challenging to open right now, but they are hopeful people will want to try something not found on many local menus.

“We understand this is something new, so we’re extremely excited,” Seals said.

The shutdown did create some delays — they were originally slated to open in March, but state closure orders caused delays. They had to work with the city on how to complete their health inspection while maintaining social distancing. Seals said they ended up completing a digital inspection, submitting pictures and videos rather than having an inspector visit the building.

“It was a learning curve for everyone involved,” he said.

They are starting off with a limited menu, and Johnson said they tried to focus on things that would be easy to transport and remain hot for customers. They initially plan to be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, and people will be able to call (319) 363-1175 to place orders.

“We’re just excited. We want Cedar Rapids to understand we’re here to support and give them something to look forward to.

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“We’re optimistic,” Seals said. “We’re all affected in one way or another, but we’re optimistic.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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