Owners set tone for pandemic preparedness

By Shari Goldstein Stern

Nothing can throw a wrench in the works like a deadly, world-wide pandemic. With hundreds of thousands of deaths and those infected in the millions, when will life as we knew it return to some sense of normality? Local establishments have felt the pain of the past year as have others around the world. A few of White Rock’s home-grown businesses shared how they have fared during this catastrophic time.

According to Lauren Danhauser, manager of Casa Linda Plaza’s Nothing Bundt Cakes (NBC), the business is considered “essential” so has remained partly open. The shop closed its lobby but remains open for curbside pick-up and delivery. “As badly as we wanted to stay open to the public at the time it was too dangerous and the girls were very scared,” the manager says. “But we are so thankful that we’ve gotten to stay open so the staff who provide for their families are able to continue to receive a paycheck.”

Lauren Danhauzer, bakery manager/operator of Nothing Bundt Cakes in Casa Linda Plaza, is proud of the boutique’s creations.
Photo courtesy of Nothing Bundt Cakes

The new way of doing business has been challenging. “It is difficult because the shop is not designed to be a curbside type of business. We are more about your experience inside the bakery,” Danhauser explains.

The bakery uses a third-party delivery service because there are not enough staff members to meet the demand of the volume of orders coming into the shop.

“The very good news is,” the manager says, “surprisingly this was the best year this location has had in seven years. We increased our business 21 percent over last year.” 

“I have the same 20 people who have worked for me from the start. A few took a leave because of their own or someone at home being at high risk. Everyone has come back now and is following regulations,” she added.  

But regular customers do miss their Bundt cake samples, an extra that has fallen victim to the store’s enforced packaging and handling measures. Nothing Bundt Cakes’ executive, Suzi, says, “The guest service representatives that work in the front at the White Rock bakery have been the absolute best during all these changes. They know how to ask customers to wear a mask, making sure we don’t go over capacity, and making sure everything gets sanitized throughout the day.”

Beverage Depot on East Northwest Highway has experienced a surge in business during the past year. On a national basis, liquor sales have been up 50 – 70 percent. Although Jose, a veteran employee of the store, does not have exact numbers yet, he said that it has been the busiest time the store has seen. “We started taking extreme measures right away to keep our customers and staff safe. We took temperatures, complied with social distancing, using sanitizer throughout the store and wore masks,” he said. 

“During the holidays we only allowed a maximum of 50 in the store at once.” Jose added that, although liquor stores are qualified as essential businesses, some of the employees didn’t want to return to work at first because the Federal stimulus they received was more than their salaries.”

Remember when the 7-11 in convenience stores translated to “We’re open lots of hours?” Alyson Rae Lawson is the owner of two busy franchise 7-11 stores in the area. “We have been an essential business since day one of COVID 19. Although sometimes business has been extremely slow, we have not closed. I made the decision to cut back on staffing instead,” the franchisee says. “We have had strong regulations from the beginning for the safety of our customers and staff.”

Alyson Rae Lawson is the franchisee of two area 7-11 stores, one of which delivers.
Photo courtesy of Alyson Rae Lawson

One of Lawson’s stores has delivery. The sales in that location have increased since COVID lockdown started, with more people staying at home.

According to the entrepreneur, 7-11 has a few platforms that deliver, with one being Instacart and another DoorDash. “These have helped us keep our customers happy but also helped to keep my store open and running through these difficult times. It provides some income that we may have lost due to the pandemic. 

Sales have decreased dramatically every month. Since so many people were no longer going to work, or working from home, sales dropped from gas and morning/evening commuters buying products inside. 

Lawson says that between both stores she had about 15 employees before. She explains: “I currently have 10 employees. Although it was tough in the beginning, it helped me to realize who my shining star employees are and really challenge them. I think it also brought them as a group closer together because they had to work out issues with a smaller number of staff.” Lawson continues, “I am truly proud of them.”

The businesswoman has had to adjust her involvement within the store. 

“My goal is to eventually take a backseat to daily duties. However, because I had to decrease staff, I now play the role of an extra employee in the morning. I make coffee, work the register and clean the bar in between all of my other duties.” 

Regarding attitudes, Alyson believes the employer sets the tone for employees. “Although at times I have been very worried about COVID and the decrease in sales, I never let my employees know about or see me struggle. I have kept their spirits up and tried to maintain the same environment throughout. I want them to continue to be the best they could be and not have to worry.”

East Dallas’s and State Fair of Texas’ (SFOT) own King of fried foods, Abel Gonzales opened Cocina Italiano Restaurant June 2019. He already had a large catering business. “COVID changed everything,” the restaurateur said. Of course, without SFOT’s 21 business days in the fall, his business faced a downturn.

Gonzales started out with substantial catering. Since the onset of the virus, businesses’ and residents’ meetings and events have dropped dramatically, leaving at least 10 of his catering staff without work. The dedicated employees who serve Gonzales’ award-winning  SFOT specialties for 21 days annually found themselves unemployed. 

Since the pandemic, Gonzales has offered curbside carryout and delivery. Now those keep the staff working about 12 hours, six days a week. Gonzales himself is hands-on during those hours, spending much of his time in the kitchen. 

Normally there are eight tables in what Gonzales described as his “small diner.” To gradually re-open the entrepreneur has gone to four tables spaced appropriately apart.

Gonzales commented,  “We’re like everyone else. We’re not unique.”