At a time when information about COVID-19 cases is being closely guarded by government, businesses and individuals, Angie’s Restaurant owner Saboor Sahely is opting for openness.
The Logan restaurant closed its doors on Saturday after an employee tested positive for the virus, and Angie’s put a notice on its door along with a statement on its Facebook page to explain the situation to customers.
“Life is short, we have got to tell the truth,” Sahely said. “We cannot lie and run a business in a community. We have to be honest with the community, we have to be honest with employees and we have to be 100 percent transparent in light of what’s going on in our society right now. Whatever the results are, live with the consequences.”
Sahely said the rumor mill was quick to distort the Angie’s story. One customer he encountered over the weekend said he heard the health department shut down the restaurant, when nothing could have been further from the truth.
“I told them this happened Friday afternoon at 2 o’clock and I called the health department immediately to tell them what happened,” Sahely said. “But guess what? The health department closed that day at 1 o’clock.”
Following the closure, Angie’s management instructed all of its roughly 80 employees to get tested, and once that process is complete, the restaurant will consider its options for reopening with unaffected staff members.
Sahely said the employee in question reported to work last Wednesday, but before coming into contact with any customers, she expressed concern about staying because she had a cough. She was sent home immediately to self-quarantine and urged to get a COVID-19 test. On Friday, the test came back positive, and that’s when Sahely ordered the closure.
“I decided to close the restaurant down to make sure that we mitigate the risk of transmission to our customers and our employees both,” Sahely said.
The action was immediately applauded by many of the restaurant’s Facebook friends, but one customer who’d eaten there recently expressed personal concern and asked if she could find out if her waitress was the infected employee. Angie’s did not provide a name, and the public should be aware that “contact tracing” is a process carried out by the Bear River Health Department, not affected businesses.
As fate would have it, the restaurant had thousands of dollars in groceries set for delivery on Saturday morning. To prevent the fresh produce from going to waste, free baskets of food were prepared and delivered to longtime Angie’s customers around the valley.
Sahely said his restaurant, one of Cache Valley’s busiest and most popular, has taken a “huge hit” through the COVID-19 pandemic. Business fell to about 25% of normal in March when Utah restaurants were first forced by state order to close their dining rooms. It has only begun to pick up more recently after a lowering of the virus risk level allowed restaurants to reopen their dining rooms under certain social-distancing restrictions.
Sahely said reopening has been difficult for many restaurants because of a shortage of available workers.
“Restaurants are having a difficult time bringing their people back to work for two reasons,” he said. “Reason No. 1 is there is a degree of anxiety about the COVID. And No. 2, frankly, is that the unemployment benefits, in all due respect to restaurant workers, are disincentivizing returning to work right now.”
That said, Sahely expects Angie’s to make a full recovery over time, albeit with many new procedures in place.
“Right now we’re back to square one because I feel that the health of the employees and the customers is far more important than financial gains,” Sahely said. “And I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Business will come back, but if you lost a life, that will never come back.”