FarmTable, Milk & Honey hope to weather the storm
HARLAN – Among the hardest hit during this coronavirus pandemic are small businesses. Many have had to close per statewide mandates. Others, such as bars and restaurants, can have no inside seating, and are only allowed to offer carry-out, drive-through or delivery options.
Look no further than Harlan’s upstart duo of businesses operated by Daniel and Ellen Walsh-Rosmann to see the unprecedented hardships placed on rural Iowa. The pair own and operate Milk & Honey Restaurant in downtown Harlan and FarmTable Procurement and Delivery located in southwest Harlan.
Milk & Honey is a breakfast and lunch farm to table restaurant, with its ingredients mostly from local producers, and menu items made from scratch. FarmTable works with small and mid-sized farms to bring their fresh, organic produce, local dairy and more to chefs, grocery stores and buying clubs.
The pair was forced to close the restaurant on March 16, and in the past few weeks has seen an 80 percent drop in sales at FarmTable. The pair has taken the humbling action of accepting donations to help employees who they have been forced to furlough.
“We asked for donations for our employees,” Walsh-Rosmann said. “We still have a fund set up at our website, milkandhoneyiowa.com. All of our Milk & Honey employees have filed for unemployment because of the reduction in hours, but that won’t cover their tips and their living expenses.
“Like a lot of employees in the service industry, they are already living paycheck to paycheck. We are still accepting donations to help our employees and hopefully retain them during this downturn.”
As for FarmTable, the pair saw it coming. Eighty percent of FarmTable sales are to customers in the food service industry such as restaurants and caterers, who have basically been shut down until further notice.
“Three weeks ago those sales stopped altogether,” Walsh-Rosmann said. “We have been able to quickly pivot our business model and open up sales to pantry customers, and at home folks. It’s just a lot more work to sell to our pantry customers – a lot more high touch happens.”
Weathering the storm
Walsh-Rosmann said they are thinking outside the box during this time. Milk & Honey re-opened last Wednesday offering cinnamon rolls, and then on Friday opened to online orders being provided curbside.
“A large percentage of our customers are in the at-risk group and we didn’t want to give them an excuse to have coffee,” Walsh-Rosmann said of initially closing. “We also wanted any transactions to be contactless and we were not completely set up for that right away. Now we are.
“Folks can order over the phone or online and pay. We will run out the order to the curb. We really don’t want anyone to come into the restaurant. We were following our peers in other bigger metros about how to make it a safe experience for everyone.”
Besides selling to pantry customers and at-home residents, FarmTable is now offering free home delivery to orders more than $100 in the Omaha metro and in Harlan. “This is a unique service,” Walsh-Rosmann said.
Walsh-Rosmann said many small businesses may not make it through these tough times. She sees Shelby County as a place where community is important, and residents here believe in local, small business enough to help them survive.
“Keep supporting (local small businesses),” she said. “Buy gift certificates if they aren’t open right now; adjust your life to fit into their new business model. Everything is so fluid right now, so we need to all be flexible on how services are being provided.”
State and federal bailouts also will help. The Iowa Economic Development Authority is helping small businesses under 25 employees by offering a $25,000 grant. “That helps, but who knows where we all will be in 90 days,” she said. “Will our business model look completely different? We aren’t sure.”
The federal government has offered a Small Business Administration disaster loan, but the effectiveness and ease of that program still is in question. “How can I guarantee a loan if I don’t know what my cash flow will look like in 90 days,?” Walsh-Rosmann asks. “It would be great if there would be loan forgiveness. Also, more grants and payments for employees.”
Walsh-Rosmann also said in six months, businesses will still need help from local communities. “This is why it is always important to shop local,” she said.
“We really do care about community and hope that now, the feeling will be reciprocated.”
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