The coronavirus pandemic has presented many challenges over the course of 2020. With guidelines and regulations continually evolving, business owners have had to find new ways to pivot so they can continue to serve customers and stay in business. Keep reading to find out how three Fergus Falls businesses are getting creative in response to COVID-19.
Higher Grounds Coffee
Known for its signature bagel sandwiches and delicious baked goods, Higher Grounds has been a long-time favorite among regulars and out-of-town guests. When the first shutdown came, the coffee and gift shop had to close its doors for several months. Despite the closure and the loss of employees, owner Kim Lockwood isn’t letting the pandemic hold her or her business back.
Besides offering takeout and curbside pickup, Higher Grounds has managed to get creative in various ways, including incorporating a Christmas theme into the gift shop. “We decided to embrace the holidays and make it feel like a Hallmark movie because they always have a happy ending,” Lockwood notes.
The second creative shift came when a friend found out they could no longer have a reception after their wedding. The family didn’t want to send guests away empty-handed after the ceremony, so they asked Lockwood if she could provide to-go meals. Since she has a catering background, she felt up to the challenge. The drive-by wedding reception was such a hit that Lockwood decided to continue offering it as a service.
The changes that Higher Grounds has put into place since the pandemic began have been met by a positive response from the community. “People have been very supportive of my small business, and I have been truly grateful. While these changes have been very difficult for staff and customers, we have done our best to navigate through this. Many people have missed the conversations that they could have in a sit-down setting, but they have continued to show their support by coming in and getting to-go options.”
The Viking Cafe
Although The Viking Cafe has changed hands (and names) a few times since it opened in 1945, Pat Shol’s family has owned the restaurant since 1967. Like many other business owners, Shol has had to make some hard choices since the pandemic began, including letting employees go due to the ensuing shutdowns. “Our staff went from 22 to 5 employees overnight, and it was difficult as a business owner to know that so many people were out of work,” he recalls.
While it’s never easy to say goodbye to valued employees, other decisions weren’t quite as tough to make. The Viking Cafe has made safety a primary goal from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Customers have continued to enjoy takeout meals, and Shol has even added all-day breakfast options to the menu at their request.
One of the most creative solutions Shol came up with happened just after the first shutdown and stay at home order were issued in March. Easter was just around the corner, and Shol felt it was important to find a way to provide families with a safe way to enjoy a great holiday meal.
A brainstorming session led to the idea of offering a drive-by meal service for the upcoming holiday. People could order off a special menu ahead of time and have their meals delivered to their car on Easter day. To keep things simple, the cafe settled on a menu that included the choice of turkey or ham along with dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, a dinner roll, and dessert.
The response the restaurant received to the drive-by meal service was terrific. The Viking Cafe served around 600 meals before eventually running out of food. The event was such a success that they did it again on Mother’s Day (serving 375 meals) and Thanksgiving (serving 475 meals).
Shol is thrilled at how successful the drive-by events have been, but he has enjoyed seeing how happy they've made people the most. “The best part of the drive-by meals was the excitement and appreciation everyone showed … Everyone was smiling and happy, something that wasn’t a common sight during the pandemic!”
Meadow Farm Foods
Meadow Farm Foods is a locally and family-owned store that has been a staple of the Fergus Falls community for almost 40 years. Though they’ve remained open and maintained regular business hours throughout the pandemic, they’ve dealt with some hurdles along the way. One of the biggest has been delivery delays. “Many of our customers rely on specific vitamins and supplements as part of their daily regimen, and not having those items for them because of COVID-19 has been both frustrating and disappointing,” says store manager Patricia Wahl.
Meadow Farm Foods has remained committed to providing excellent service to its customers. The store has implemented new safety measures to help customers feel comfortable while shopping. In addition to shopping in-store, customers now have the option to shop over the phone and have a team member collect the items on their list. They can then pick up their order using the store’s new parking lot pickup service.
Understanding how difficult the pandemic has been for many of its shoppers, Meadow Farm Foods has made it a point to be attentive to their customers’ individual needs. “Since the pandemic began, we’ve gotten to know many of our customers on a more personal level, sharing a socially-distanced laugh or a heartfelt story. Offering them a kind word on a sometimes sad day has helped many people we’ve come across.”
When it comes to finding creative solutions in a time of uncertainty, Wahl encourages business owners to put people first. “Be the helpers; be both caring and patient because people are reacting to the pandemic in a variety of ways. To be successful, we need to be attuned to those reactions and be a good listener to our customers.”
Greater Fergus Falls is proud of our business community and their ability to get creative even during the most trying times. Our team is dedicated to providing support to business owners big and small, so don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have.