Even as Logan business activity has picked up in the past month, one of the city’s liveliest street corners has remained far from its old self because a landmark business on the block has sat silent since closing its doors at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
That street corner is Church Street and Federal Avenue, and that business is the Caffe Ibis, which for the past 45 years has attracted a diverse clientele known to linger and socialize both within the business and on the sidewalks outside.
On Friday, the Ibis quietly reopened for a limited number of customers who agreed to participate in a “stress test” to gauge the safety and efficiency of doing takeout orders. Since that went well, the Ibis management decided to reopen for business on a limited basis beginning Tuesday. Hours will be from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and the cafe will be doing takeout only, with food service and the dining area still closed.
The outdoor tables at the Ibis will also remain closed, although customers can still use single-seat benches on the front sidewalk.
“We remain very concerned about the virus and its potential to cause harm now and into the future,” said new owner Lesa Wilson, who purchased the cafe and its companion coffee roasting company in February from co-founder Sally Sears. “During closure we were able to work on a minor remodeling project that we hope will help slightly with the flow inside the building.”
Among the changes is a new exit where customers can leave after picking up their orders to avoid close encounters with those entering the building. The cafe will also have directional arrows for customers to follow, social-distancing markers and a shield at the cash register.
And, yes, masks will be insisted upon.
“If you have been inside, you know the public space in our building is small and quarters are tight — social distancing is difficult at best,” Wilson said. “I like to follow the science behind this virus, along with the economics. I am not completely comfortable with the idea of reopening but feel we must balance the economics with the science and figure out how to do this as safely as possible.”
Several other coffee shops in the Logan area have continued to do business at various levels during the pandemic. The locally owned Westside Coffee Company and Cache Coffee both went to a takeout-only model after Gov. Gary Herbert in March announced closure of restaurant dining areas, as did the three Starbucks outlets.
When the COVID-19 risk level was later changed from “Orange” to “Yellow,” Cache Coffee reopened its dining area, and Westside opened its outside seating. Starbucks’ dining areas remain closed because of corporate concerns about the recent spike in coronavirus cases locally, according to a company official who asked not to be identified.
Asked if his business took a hit during the pandemic after opening last year, Cache Coffee owner Jamie Butters offered an emphatic no.
“It went really well. We have really good customers who we actually consider family, so they came by to make sure we were still here and make sure we were doing OK,” Butters said. “We want to thank our community for everything they’ve done for us.”
Although the Caffe Ibis has been quiet these last two and a half months, wholesale and retail sales of packaged coffee out of the Caffe Ibis Roasting Company on 200 North have remained brisk.
Wilson said 18 of her 38 employees at the cafe and roasting facility combined were laid off in March after the initial shock of the pandemic led to the coffee shop’s closure and a bracing for slower business overall. Some of these were longtime employees.
Anticipating a gradual reopening, Wilson has only rehired two employees so far, and they will staff the cafe along with her son, Tom, the business manager who has stayed on this spring as the caretaker of the building.
“We are not sure what to expect with reopening,” she said. “Did we wait too long? Maybe we should stay closed until the case rate begins to decline? Have our customers found another home for their daily coffee? Many questions.”