VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- It's been almost two years since the COVID-19 pandemic first shut down the country.
For many businesses — 10 percent of restaurants within the first year, studies show — it was the beginning of the end.
For The Rustic Spoon, it was a major turning point...
"I'm not closing my doors. It's not an option," Ryan Hines, one of the restaurant's three owners, said in April of 2020, one month after pandemic restrictions kicked in and two months after The Rustic Spoon opened in the Thoroughgood neighborhood of Virginia Beach.
It was years in the making for Hines and his business partners, Jay Kulas and Nick Pogue, who had spent years moving around in the Virginia Beach restaurant industry and other careers.
When restrictions shuttered dine-in services at Virginia restaurants, The Rustic Spoon saw its full dining room shut down. Sales dropped 80 percent, the restaurant's owners laid off its newly-hired staff and began making deliveries themselves.
With each phase of reopening, the place adjusted, getting creative with its menu and social media, all while word-of-mouth spread about its scratch-made brunch and dinner options.
Now, just after celebrating its two-year anniversary, Hines says The Rustic Spoon is opening its second location in the Red Mill section of Virginia Beach at the site of the former La Bella Italia on Upton Drive.
"It was a wonderful sense of accomplishment because we didn't know what was going to happen during the pandemic," said Hines of the two-year anniversary celebration. "We've been getting a lot of customers coming from Red Mill to check out this location to see what's going into the new spot."
Hines says he and his team still has permits and other hurdles to iron out, but the hope is to open the new location by the early summer. He expects the look and the menu to be the same as the first location.
And while staffing has been an issue for many restaurants in the area, Hines said he believes he's finally turned a corner in that respect too.
"Obviously word-of-mouth is a big thing in this industry. We did the normal things like Indeed, we did the Facebook posts. It was just, man, we had to do whatever we could to get people in here," he said.
Martha Davenport, Executive Director of the Virginia Beach Restaurant Association, says it's a similar story for other businesses. Though, those that are seasonal are still working on filling out their numbers.
"Those restaurants that have been operational year-round probably show a better picture than those that have not but we are actively looking for people who want employment," she said.
Davenport says the VBRA is working with other organizations like the Convention and Visitors Bureau and even Virginia Beach City Public Schools to address hiring in the hospitality industry long-term.
But the hope is good news stories, like that of The Rustic Spoon, will continue as the restaurant business emerges from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.