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Enterprising Spirit: Palouse Bar & Grill back to self-imposed shutdown

The Palouse Bar &  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The Palouse Bar & (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Many Spokane restaurants are back to some semblance of normal business by now. Despite climbing COVID-19 case numbers in Spokane County, local spots have worked to bounce back from weeks or months of closure with limited, careful dine-in service.

For the staff of Palouse Bar & Grill, things were never quite back to normal, according to general manager Ethan Croucher. Like most local eateries, the gastropub on Spokane’s South Hill closed down in March, only doing takeout orders until they were able to reopen in May.

Croucher said those weeks were rough, with revenues decreasing drastically. Most of the restaurant’s staff, around 20 people, were laid off. They persevered, though, with the help of their devoted crowd of regulars, Croucher said.

When they reopened at 50% capacity, it looked like things were on their way back to normal again. Nothing was consistent, Croucher said, with rushes on Monday afternoons sometimes inexplicably surpassing surprisingly small weekend crowds. But he was able to hire back most of the staff, and Croucher said he felt good about how things were shaping up.

But Croucher said the restaurant’s owners were concerned about exposing their staff to the virus, despite all the standard precautions. Plus, the lunch crowd is largely older people who might fall into the at-risk category for complications from the disease, Croucher said.

Customers felt comfortable with the precautions the restaurant took for safety, Croucher said. But a few staff members were worried about exposure; everyone was “a little nervous.”

As case counts rose throughout the county, Palouse Bar & Grill made the decision last week to close down again. Starting Monday, the restaurant was back to filling takeout orders only.

“Ultimately, we didn’t want to be part of the problem,” Croucher said. “It wasn’t like business was bad. But given the numbers, I think it was the wise decision.”

It’s hard to say how a second closure will play out, Croucher said. As of Monday afternoon, he said takeout orders had remained steady – but less than one day in, he couldn’t predict how the coming weeks would go.

None of the staff who were hired back upon reopening were being laid off, Croucher said. The goal, he said, was to keep it that way as long as takeout stayed steady.

“I’m staying optimistic, but I think we all just wish this would be over,” Croucher said. “The staff understands why this is happening, and I think we all know we’re all in it together.”

Croucher said he didn’t know of any other Spokane-area restaurants that had made the choice to shut down again for safety reasons. But having seen plenty of places closing down entirely for weeks at a time following outbreaks, Croucher said he’d rather “play it smart.”

“This is a safety thing, not a business thing,” Croucher said. “We’re going to do well through this, just like the first shutdown. That’s the hope, anyway.”

While the restaurant is empty, Croucher said staff would be working on revamping their extensive wine and beer lists, developing creative to-go cocktail kits and releasing new specials to keep things interesting. And staff would always be sticking to their motto of “good food, good drinks and good service,” Croucher said, dine-in or no dine-in.

There’s no set re-reopening date for the restaurant yet, but Croucher said he and the owners would be keeping their eye on Spokane County case numbers. Once those begin to decrease, Croucher said he’d be more comfortable opening back up.

For the time being, he’s just looking forward to enjoying the company of guests and pouring drinks without worries.

“And being able to hold our viewing parties here would be really nice, eventually,” Croucher said. “Of course, if football is back on by then.”

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