WTOP is proud to spotlight the many small businesses that make up the D.C. region as part of our Small Business September coverage. The Small Business September series is brought to you by EagleBank.
The pandemic sent shock waves through the restaurant industry, leaving local business owners grappling with challenges they never expected to encounter.
To this day, those entrepreneurs face the dual task of recovery and adaptation.
“It really did a number on people,” said Teresa Keefer, owner of Northside 10, a bar and grill along East Glebe Road in Alexandria, Virginia. “COVID was very scary for this industry, but I’m glad we’re on the other side of it for sure.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of the post-pandemic recovery lies in the resilience of community support, Keefer said.
During the pandemic, many neighborhoods rallied around their favorite local restaurants.
That surge of support — whether through takeout orders, gift card purchases or direct donations — exemplified the strong connections between those establishments and their loyal customers.
The pandemic led to different consumer behaviors in some instances, with a preference for smaller, independent businesses.
Local restaurants were uniquely positioned to capitalize on that, offering a community-centric dining experience that larger chains struggled to replicate.
“I’m really thankful that we got through it,” Keefer said. “For us, being a local place, the neighborhood supported us big time.”
But there are lingering impacts from COVID, especially with labor shortages and workforce instability.
The pandemic-induced economic downturn coupled with concerns about health and safety led to a dwindling pool of employees at first.
Retaining and motivating workers is still a challenge.
“There are so many more steps and precautions that we are taking, so it’s just not walking in and making a couple hundred bucks and leaving,” Keefer said. “It’s a lot more work these days.”
Keefer said her business was able to find more employees during the summer because college students were back in town. Now, it’s a “struggle” to find enough staff again.
Still, Keefer said she is optimistic about where things are heading from here.
“It’s back to normal,” Keefer said. “Our sales are right around where they were before COVID.”
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