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‘We’re very optimistic about the future:’ New mask rules helping restaurants rebound

Posted at 7:13 PM, Feb 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-28 19:48:29-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As soon as Jeff Lobdell walked into Real Food Cafe on Plainfield Avenue, he immediately went to the kitchen and said "hello" to everyone.

“How’s everybody doing today here?” Lobdell said. “Appreciate you being here on Monday.”

In November, Restaurant Partners Management LLC, which Lobdell is president of, acquired Real Food Cafe’s two locations. He oversees over a dozen restaurants in Grand Rapids and Traverse City, which are now fully open and operational, he said.

February 28 was the first time Real Food Cafe opened on a Monday.

“I think it's business as usual, pre-pandemic,” Lobdell said during an interview with FOX 17. “We may have a couple of people that are still wearing masks because they feel comfortable. Perhaps they have somebody with a compromised immune system at home that they’re looking out for and choose not to be mask-less. But, we respect their wishes to do whatever they want to do.”

Last Friday, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed its mask rules, allowing restaurants and other businesses to set their own mask policies in certain areas throughout the country.

Lobdell said at his locations he's leaving the decision up to the customer or patron. Nevertheless, he believes it’ll help restaurants rebound from the last two years of the pandemic.

“It was a really hard time for everybody,” he said. “We had two consecutive stints where we were shut down for 75 days at a time, our dining rooms were [shutdown]. The second time around we opted to keep a lot of the restaurants open for take out and delivery.”

However, he said that wasn’t an efficient business model. Even though they received PPP loans, they still endured hard times.

“We are grateful to get the PPP 1 funds and PPP 2 funds and some restaurants got RRF funds, which is Restaurants Recovery Fund. We did not get those but we’re in a position where we’ve rebounded. We’ve recovered. We don’t need those,” he said. “But a lot of restaurants do and we hope those restaurants get those funds to get back to their normal operating hours and get their staff back and serve the community like they did in the past.”

Lobdell said one of the things he did to get to a full staff was enhance their benefits package. He added a number of new benefits including 401K plans (matching 2.5 percent), telehealth coverage, free shift meals, company discounts, bounty bonuses, and $50 cell reimbursement.

He said it’s lured in new staff, which has helped them bounce back.

“Right now sales are great,” he said. “Staffing is back up. We have good management teams with bench strength, and we’re very optimistic about the future.”