While restaurants and their employees are among the hardest hit during the COVID-19 shutdowns, the Greenwood culinary world is finding new ways to keep their sense of community. Open for take-out or closed for planning the future, local restaurants are part of the foundation of life in Greenwood.
Now in his tenth year at local landmark Montague’s, TJ Jenks has been a driving force in supporting the town’s culinary and musical talents.
Montague’s provided curbside for the first week to use up the inventory they had, then shut down. “The big thing is not to judge anybody for their decisions during the shutdown,” TJ says. “We did what we thought was best for our employees—and that was to close. We had to lay off 27 fulltime employees” as well as part-time staff.
“The last week we were open, the Greenwood public was so incredibly generous to help. We also set up an online platform for people to donate directly to employees.” All of those donations go straight to the employees, and as a thank-you, customers who donate receive gift certificates reflecting half of their donation amounts.
In a business where the average industry turnover rate is 85%, Montague’s is a rarity. The team there is more like family than coworkers. “The newest employee has been there for two years, one has been there 26 years. We spend more time together than with our actual families.”
“That’s been a really tough thing personally, to go from interacting with hundreds of people weekly to just a handful.”
Some of the things learned during the pandemic will become the new normal. “We never had online ordering before, for example, but we will certainly continue that in the future.”
Another local favorite, Kicker’s, known as the “lil place...big taste,” is still open, doing a busy to-go business.
“We have a lot of really loyal customers who have stayed with us,” according to owner Abdel Dimiati. “We started as a small place for mostly take-out, so this is familiar to us.” While the first week of to-go service after the lockdown was slow, business really began picking up in the second week and has remained steady.
Kickers is known for its fresh food goodness and international flavors, and Abdel has continued to create customer favorites with the freshest ingredients he can get, even without direct access to local growers. The local farmers market has recently begun doing drive-through service, however, to satisfy local shoppers’ needs for fresh produce.
“In times like this, people want comfort food,” he says, and their unique burgers, with Greek, Morrocan, Cuban, Asian and Caribbean flavors, have been big sellers for locals looking for food that satisfies the soul as well as the taste buds.
The Kickers staff appreciates the Uptown Greenwood Development Corporation for its work providing resources and information as well as the #TeamGreenwood Shop Local program. #TeamGreenwood shirt sales help support servers and other restaurant workers who are without their usual source of income now.
“It’s a good community,” says Abdel.
Until Further Notice
With Montague’s temporarily closed, TJ says, “I couldn’t sit home and do nothing. I found a really good outlet to do something positive.”
“Once we had figured out what to do for our employees, we began to think about the other people we employ, especially the musicians.” A private Facebook group discussed best practices and how to monetize their efforts for musicians. That led to the Facebook Live performances with donation links for “tipping” the musicians, and to the even bigger project, “Until Further Notice.”
TJ had seen videos of the Song Around the World project and thought a similar idea could work for Greenwood’s many talented musicians. Local filmmaker David Holloway was ready to help and chose the song “American Pie” as fitting for the time of COVID-19, when live music was not an option.
A massive undertaking with some three dozen musicians, plus a few children and dogs, the video was posted on Facebook at midnight on Saturday, April 25, and quickly went viral, raising several thousand dollars for area musicians within the first three days. The video is also streaming on iconic songwriter Don McLean’s website and on YouTube. “Nobody has organized like we have. We’re probably months away from any income-producing events for musicians. I don’t see how you can not keep this going.”
TJ sits on the Uptown Greenwood Development board, a 501c3 which is able to handle and distribute the donations. “Lara [Uptown director Lara Hudson] has been an incredible resource for all of the area businesses—a one-stop shop for resources and information.”
“That is in every facet of Greenwood. Everyone’s response has just reinforced my opinion of this community’s support”, TJ says. “Everyone feels this overwhelming sense of community. In almost 20 years in the restaurant business, I have never seen the way even competitors work together across all businesses to help each other.”
“My sincere thanks goes to the whole community. What a special place to live; I’m incredibly blessed and thankful.”