JAMESTOWN, N.D. — Jonny B’s Brickhouse hasn’t been as quiet around mealtimes as it is now since before it opened in early 2016. The locally-owned pizza shop, featuring a big brick oven where diners can watch their pizza being cooked, has been a hot spot to grab a pizza, a beer or a number of other tasty dishes from the menu or to gather for fellowship or trivia nights.
But now, with restaurants around the country closed to diners for anything other than carryout and delivery, the lunch rush at Jonny B’s has as much to do with cleaning and completing maintenance projects as it does with making pizza.
“Things have gone a lot better than we thought they would, but, all in all, we have seen a big reduction in our sales,” says Jon Beyer, the owner of Jonny B’s in downtown Jamestown. “We’re maybe doing about 60% of what we normally would do in sales.”
Some of those sales have gone to Hugo’s Family Marketplace, located just down the street from Jonny B’s. Hugo’s is an independent grocery store headquartered in Grand Forks, N.D., and the company’s 10 locations in Minnesota and North Dakota have been purchasing meals for employees at local restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Lisa Swanson, communications director for Hugo’s.
“We decided to support both our employees and our local restaurants in our communities,” Swanson says. “We started ordering from them a couple times a week, each store and our retail support center, meals for our associates.”
The meals are a sign of appreciation for employees who have dealt with changing conditions and larger-than-normal crowds.
“They’re working really hard, and it’s been extremely busy, and we’re so grateful for every one of them,” Swanson says.
Richard Hilgemann, manager of the Jamestown Hugo’s, says employees have appreciated the effort and have appreciated having the support of the company.
“It means the world for them,” he says.
Each Hugo’s store gets to decide where to get their meals. In Jamestown, meals have come from Jonny B’s, as well as Sabir’s, IDK, Quiznos, The Depot, Pizza Ranch and Applebee’s. Swanson says the orders are important for local restaurants that are struggling due to the shutdown.
“They appreciate getting any orders they can, and we really love being able to support them. We’re all in the same community and we need our community to thrive and survive through this, so we want to do what we can to help that,” she says.
“It’s very helpful to see businesses helping out our local businesses,” Beyer agrees.
At Jonny B’s, Beyer says several staffers haven’t been able to work right now for one reason or another, but for those who can, Beyer has found cleaning and maintenance projects on top of the normal tasks to get them hours. When the shutdown ends, the goal is to “make the place look like the day we opened,” he says. That includes pulling out all parts of the kitchen, redoing floors and scrubbing and detailing equipment.
Jonny B’s also has become known for its frozen pizzas, served in bars and sold in grocery stores in the Jamestown area. While the bar sales largely have dried up for now, the business’s route driver is still on the road.
“We’re doing what we can to keep the grocery stores stocked so people can enjoy them at home,” Beyer says.
He knows some restaurants are struggling more than them right now, but he appreciates all the community support.
“These are very difficult times for everybody,” Beyer says. “It’s very important that we have each other’s backs. When it comes to small business, it seems that communities and small business are all we can really count on. So we need to keep them going.”
That’s the same attitude at Hugo’s. Swanson says independent grocery stores are vital parts of the community and dedicated to caring for their customers and employees.
“Independent grocery stores in any community, they employ your neighbors, your sons, your daughters, your friends, and they’re there to support you year after year after year,” she says. “So when you’ve got kids in local programs and in the schools and nonprofit agencies, your independent grocers are supporting those organizations and those companies year round. In any community, the independent grocer is there to support the people.”