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Forthcoming Columbia restaurants try not to let COVID-19 wreck their plans

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Rambo's Fat Cat Biscuits

Sausage and Chipotle Pimento Cheese Biscuit from Rambo’s Fat Cat Biscuits / Photo by Bach Pham

As COVID-19’s spread has forced dining rooms across the country and in Columbia to close, it also introduced uncertainty for those with plans to open a new restaurant or business.

“We thought we were two to three weeks to opening,” Cam Powell, co-owner of forthcoming arcade bar Transmission, tells Free Times. “To feel like we can see the finish line and get to this point, it’s definitely frustrating.”

Transmission is one of a number of forthcoming ventures that have had to reassess plans or push back opening. Michelle Wang, owner of the Miyo’s and M restaurant chain, recently told Free Times she was postponing reopening her M Fresh concept in the Vista district.

Wang initially targeted an April opening, but pushed that back indefinitely. She made that decision prior to Gov. Henry McMaster’s March 17 order to close South Carolina dining rooms

“I think our opening will be postponed, because nobody will come out,” she details. “I think right now the most important thing is the wellbeing of our customers and staff.”

Once things pass, she’ll look to open the business, but the circumstances around COVID-19 make it difficult to envision doing that now.

“Right now, it’s definitely not a time to open a new business,” Wang says. “It’s definitely not a time to think about profits or success, it’s a time to think about wellness.”

Despite Wang and Powell’s decisions, there are signs that some are still barreling ahead. Local activist Kevin Gray’s Railroad BBQ restaurant opened on March 12, five days before McMaster’s order, but well into COVID-19 becoming a concern. And on Devine Street, a sign for a new Kairos Mediterranean restaurant is up near Buffalo Wild Wings.

Others are using the time to formulate plans. The one-and-a-half-year-old Rambo Fat Cat Biscuits, a Soda City Market regular, is still hoping to grow their business, co-owner Renee Adams says. The market was cancelled indefinitely on March 12, leaving vendors like Fat Cat out of a regular spot.

“While we’re not seeing our customers and having those normal services as we normally do, we are spending this time to invest into our future plans of where we’re going to take our business,” she explains.

Adams says she’s grateful that she and her husband’s restaurant is just a mobile vendor at this point. They don’t have as much overhead as a brick-and-mortar eatery, so the stakes aren’t as high for them yet.

“We’re just really trying to focus on staying positive and using this time wisely,” Adams explains.

As COVID-19 spreads and continues to impact the hospitality industry, it raises concerns that the independent restaurant community could look radically different on the other side of it. High profile New York City chef/restaurateur Tom Colicchio told The Daily Beast he thought up to 75 percent of independent restaurants could close, and Kristian Niemi, the local restaurateur behind Black Rooster and Bourbon, tells Free Times that the longer the conditions go on the worse it will get.

But Powell says that isn’t the case for Transmission. He acknowledges that they’ve had to cut back on some services for the arcade bar — a television package and a point of sale system — to save money while they await their opening, but he isn’t worrying yet.

Still, Powell does wonder what the landscape will look like once the pandemic passes.

“We just hope we come on the other side of it and there’s still an economy and there’s a public that’s still wanting to go out and spend money on these types of things,” he concludes. “We’re hoping to emerge back into something where those kind of life norms are still part of what the average Columbian [wants].”

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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