OTTUMWA — On St. Patrick’s Day, Ottumwa resident Kevin Hatfield created a Facebook group called “What’s for Dinner Ottumwa?” to foster connections and help others know about the different restaurants in town.
Since he created it, membership has nearly risen to 3,000. Hatfield thought of creating the group before the start of the pandemic to let residents know about the variety of restaurants in the area. After the no dining policy was set in place due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he said creating the group became essential in order to support local restaurants.
“I wanted to build attention to businesses as best as I could,” Hatfield said. “They worried about how they’ll manage their businesses because of these restrictions. People in restaurants live like us — check to check and operate on slim margins. They had to cut a lot of people … Ottumwa happens to be my community. I respect them a whole lot. I want to do what I can to help. We need to support them through carryout or delivery.”
Sabrina Roquet Knapp, co-owner of Bubba-Q’s, is among many restaurant owners who worry about their business. Knapp and her husband Bubba had to let some staff go because of a decrease in income and patrons. Currently they are thinking of ways to stay afloat.
“There are so many different opinions on how to do business these days,” Knapp said. “Do you close? For fear of spreading the virus. Do you stay open? It’s a very fine line for those of us who are owners. We don’t want to put our staff in harm’s way.
“We want to help the community,” Knapp added. “So, we have to make tough decisions … and support during those decisions means a lot and let’s you know you are doing the right thing. As restaurant owners, we put up with a lot — employee and customers’ wise — you know what I’m saying, but at the end of the day, in times like these, keeping jobs and keeping business going and keeping the community fed is what’s most important.”
Trena Beske, owner of Benchwarmer’s, also has a shortage of staff but said the Facebook group has helped draw in customers. She also said the page allows her staff to show their support for other restaurant owners.
“Supporting our local businesses right now is so important,” she said, “because so many people have unfortunately been laid off from their places of employment right now, and we would like to strive for every business to stay above water and be able to welcome their full staff back stronger than ever. This has been a trying time for everyone, and the few people that have been able to keep working have been running like crazy trying to make sure everyone is happy and taken care of.”
Residents also continue to rally behind the local restaurants, choosing to place food orders on a regular basis. For some, it was the chance to try new foods and remain loyal customers.
“Joining the page has helped me to see what all Ottumwa has to offer even though we are facing some challenging times,” Alexandria Elaine said. “Without this page, I doubt I would have been willing to try someplace new. Support is needed throughout our community in order to keep our local small businesses going. They have many obstacles to face yet they are still doing their best to keep going and to get us fed.”
“I joined because I love my hometown and our people,” Dawn Smallwood Black said. “If we don’t support our people and their businesses, they won’t thrive and continue being open. Then what happens? They close and move away and then we are left with nothing. I don’t want that to happen to my hometown and its great people.”