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It’s a challenging time for all types of businesses trying to stay afloat amidst a global pandemic. Many local restaurants are upping their game with takeout and delivery options.

[Photo: Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ and Blind Pig Pizza Co. co-owner Jamie McDonald (center) and his team donate pizzas and BBQ sandwiches to healthcare workers at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center]

MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Jamie McDonald, co-owner of Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ and Blind Pig Pizza Co., who is working hard to keep his businesses open—and give back to the community.

NAN PRICE: How is Bear’s supporting the community right now?

JAMIE McDONALD: My stance has always been to use Bear’s as a vehicle to support the community because, at the end of the day, if you put good out there, you’ll get good in return. It’s not because there’s an expectation, it’s because it’s the right thing to do.

We’ve reached out to many hospitals in the area, including Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, Yale New Haven Hospital, Saint Francis Hospital, UConn Health, and Hartford Hospital, as well as some independent testing centers that are helping get all these coronavirus tests processed.

It’s also critical to remember our homeless population, which is really struggling right now because all the resources they would usually depend on are drying up. We’ve been doing what we can to work with some of those support organizations and shelters, like Journey Home. We’ll even use our food trucks to get out and help distribute food.

This doesn’t have anything to do with food, but I think people need to know: A lot of people out there are struggling and I think everybody just needs to keep things in perspective. Yes, things are getting rough for us. A lot of people are losing their jobs. They don’t know whether unemployment is going to last or what the government is going to do with unemployment as far as increasing it or not. But there’s a population out there that is terrified to even be in their homes because they’re trapped with their abuser or they have dependency issues and they’re now stuck in their homes, which is not a good situation for them. So, always do what you can to reach out to the people you know who struggle at a time like this.

NAN: How else can the community help?

JAMIE: A bunch of great patrons have reached out to ask how they can make donations. I appreciate the offers, but I have that covered. What they can do for us is continue to patronize our business. Get takeout, get delivery, buy gift cards. As long as our doors are open, I’ll continue to get people food who need food.

NAN: It’s wonderful you can do that for the community.

JAMIE: Thanks. That part of this whole experience has been great. I truly enjoy trying to help people. It’s in line with the core philosophy of our business. My team feels good about what they’re doing, too, and it’s an added incentive to serve our community.

The medical staff we deliver to are thankful not only for the meal, but for the recognition that they’re out there every day, putting their own health at risk to keep us all healthy.

NAN: It’s good to have that avenue to stay positive. This crisis is obviously paying a toll on business.

JAMIE: We’ve had to let go of about 175 people. Those employees all qualify for unemployment and we’re trying to support them where we can. They can come once a day and get a free meal on us and we’ll continue to do that as long as we’re open.

My goal is to not have to close any of our locations. If things continue the way they are, we should be able to squeak by. Hopefully, some relief will come from the state and federal government. What’s needed is suspended tax payments, having landlords defer rent payments, and help with utilities. All these fixed costs are going to eat up our money and prevent us from staying open. We could cut labor and try to do everything with as few people as possible but, the bills are still coming in and, unfortunately, we’re not earning the level of sales we’re accustomed to.

Right now, we’re just trying to operate all the restaurants with our salaried staff. Sales were decent enough last week where we’re looking at adding back about 40 hours of hourly labor per restaurant this week. And, if things continue, we can slowly start adding as many people back as we possibly can.

We appreciate everybody’s support. Just remember, there are a lot of businesses out there that can also use support, not just Bear’s. There are plenty of other restaurants and farmers markets with products to sell. So, support any local business you can because they all need it right now.