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Black Rooster and Bourbon re-opening delayed, takeout and dinner events to come soon

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A screenshot from Kristian Niemi’s Monday Facebook video.

Need to learn how to make a classic cocktail or carbonara? Bourbon and Black Rooster's Kristian Niemi has a video for it. Looking for his reopening plans? He’s posted a video on that, too.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the chef-owner has shared a handful videos on his businesses’ Facebook pages. The videos feature Niemi alone in front of the camera, often making a quip or two before dispensing information about his restaurants' coronavirus response.

But his latest video, posted Monday, takes on a decidedly less fun tone. He details that their planned Tuesday reopening is delayed for at least another month due to rising COVID case numbers. To underscore his reasoning, he reveals that after a reopening meeting, an employee contacted him to tell him that they had tested positive. It was the second such delay for his businesses, after he initially pushed back a June reopening.

The chef-owner appears to get emotional a few times during the clip, especially near the end, when he apologizes for “getting your hopes up” on reopening and takes a deep breath.

He then flips off the camera — “F#!k COVID, right?”

Niemi later spoke with Free Times about the decision to put off re-opening.

“You know, to start the entire engine of a restaurant is hard enough but if you're starting it and stopping it that’s even worse,” he says. “The outlay of cash for product, the toll it takes on staff to get off their unemployment benefits to come back to work, only to end up having to go back on those for further testing and such. There weren’t a lot of pros in the pro column. There were a lot more in the con columns.”

Niemi’s move comes as several other Columbia restaurants have shut back down in response to rising COVID numbers. Bar None ceased operation after a brief reopening period, and Nicky’s Pizzeria on Greene Street has, too. Other restaurants have shut down temporarily after an employee tested positive, or, in other cases, when someone close to the restaurant's staff tested positive.

On Tuesday, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control announced 595 new COVID cases with 13.7 percent of tests coming back positive. It’s a brief respite from the weekend, when daily numbers of new cases spiked above 800.

Despite the doom and gloom, Niemi did include some exciting news in the new video.

His restaurants will begin offering take-home meals, matching up with corresponding videos that will instruct patrons on how to reheat them. In addition, Niemi's popular dinner events, ranging from casual to upscale, will soon return, emphasizing smaller crowds that are socially distanced with minimal contact and low staffing. Most of the events will take place in outdoor spaces.

Niemi hopes bringing back events will keep his restaurants in diners' minds while also jumpstarting some cashflow.

“Trying to do these events in the most safe way possible is our major concern, not just for the public but for our staff,” Niemi posits.

Niemi’s tactic of posting videos to interact with his restaurant’s fans contrasts what most restaurants have been doing. Most local eateries have stuck to either text-based posts or sharing carefully curated photos.

Niemi says his videos are a way of better connecting and engaging.

“I just feel that video has more impact," he posits. "More people are more likely to watch it and listen to it, than if someone was to put it in [a text] post."

David Clarey joined Free Times in November 2019 as a food and news writer. He's constantly fighting competing desires to try cooking food at home and spending his entire paycheck on Columbia restaurants.

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