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My Rebound: Closing the doors

Jessica Ann Tyson in doorway of The Candied Yam
Posted at 10:31 AM, Jun 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 19:59:12-04

Editor's note: Jessica Ann is a restaurant owner who's blogging about trying to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic at My Rebound by FOX 17. She founded The Candied Yam, a Grand Rapids restaurant serving Southern cuisine, in 2016. She is married with a daughter who just graduated high school and an adult son. She lives in Kentwood.

Like it was yesterday, I remember exactly what I was doing and where I was at when I heard the news that the state of Michigan was shutting down. Literally.

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My assistant Tamara and I sat in the office and took call after call from our PR firm clientele. The phone would ring. We both would looked at each other and then the caller ID. These were definitely speakerphone- worthy conversations. Clients were terrified. Preceding days, clients only curious with calls were asking "do we or don’t we" have our scheduled events. On this day, event after event canceled. Dropped like flies. All of our hard work and months of researching, planning and meetings were up in smoke with one signed executive order from Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

We kept fielding calls, texts and emails answering as much as we knew. Tamara kept looking through different news sites just to make sure we weren’t seeing "fake news." We looked at each other again. Eyeball to eyeball. We knew exactly what this meant. Our lives were going to change from all that we knew presently. COVID was getting even more real by the hour. Turn the open for business sign off at JA PR Group. Multiple hours a week now turns into nothing much to do.

The Pink Lounge, dry salt therapy, a totally new business venture of mine never even had the chance to become a reality! The contractor’s nails were left where they lay. Painters — not one more stroke with the brush. The Candied Yam, delightful Southern cuisine, my restaurant, was the only thing that could remain open and deemed "essential" for takeout/carry-out only. That cold March day of 2020 was a real doozy. I am sure you too remember that day.

My restaurant is essential? As in necessary and extremely important? Please don’t ever challenge me or give me a loophole. I am always that one who sees the mountain, does the research — and then says, "Let’s do it!" Don’t you just love Google?! Hee! I decided to keep The Candied Yam open, so I really needed to get myself together in more ways than one. I had less than 24 hours. There was no time for emotion. Straight facts and straight business was all I could do and produce at this point. No time to whine about what else was happening. Put your big-girl panties on Jessica Ann. The restaurant needed and required my utmost attention or that business would become flatlined too. Honestly, there was one moment that I almost panicked, because like all of us, I did not understand much about COVID, as it was/is being researched. I wanted everyone to be safe. I wanted to respect the decision of those who were not comfortable to work. I understood me in that decision. I had an opportunity to do what I do best and that’s step up and play ball. Tons of really amazing restaurants were closing their doors. If I took this leap, was I committing business suicide?

According to the National Restaurant Association, 3% of operators surveyed said they have permanently closed their restaurants, and 11% of operators told the trade group that they could permanently be closed.

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The survey was of 4,000 restaurant owners and operators.

Restaurant Business Online also reported that if 3% of the nation’s restaurants are already permanently closed, that means 30,000 locations around the country won’t re-open, based on the association’s figure that there are more than 1 million restaurants in the U.S. If 11% permanently shut down within a month, that would add another 110,000 closures.

Okay. On this side of all of that stuff, I totally admit it was and remains challenging. But I did it. I am not better than anyone else. Maybe a little bit crazier and riskier than others (truth), but I did it. My team did it. My family, friends and community support gave me a chance to keep my business doors open. I am truly grateful. It would not have happened without great support systems. I saw a guy wearing a T-shirt that said, "I’m essential, which basically means I’m a big deal." I loved his shirt. Washing dishes, frying chicken, cleaning my restaurant’s toilets and wiping down counters. Taking out the trash, breaking down boxes. Sanitizing door handles. Yep. I’m essential, and I made the choice to be, so I could keep the doors open. So glad I did!