Yellow Springs restaurants persevere
- Published: April 9, 2022
As the pandemic winds into its third year, Yellow Springs businesses are still adapting. Closures, illness and difficulty obtaining needed items continue to be cited as elements that have had lasting effects on local businesses — but so have perseverance, optimism and gratitude.
In this third round-up of interviews with local business owners about how the pandemic has affected their ventures, the News checked in with food establishment owners Karyn Stillwell-Current and Brian Rainey; owners of The Winds Cafe, Miguel’s Tacos and Lucky Dragon declined to be interviewed at this time.
The News will feature more businesses in future reporting as this series continues.
Current Cuisine — 237 Xenia Ave.
As downtown restaurants reacted to the changing business landscape wrought by a global pandemic, Current Cuisine managed to avoid one of the common effects of those changes: it remained open.
“We never closed once,” co-owner Karyn Stillwell-Current said. “We were an essential business.”
The business owners credited Current Cuisine’s ability to remain open to vigilance for safety measures from the onset. They implemented a mask mandate and social distancing protocols for customers before the village or state took similar measures, and installed plexiglass barriers at the deli counters.
These preventative measures paid off, they said, as none of the Current Cuisine staff has gotten sick with COVID-19.
When Stillwell-Current and her husband, Steve Current, opened Current Cuisine as a catering venture in 1983, the business developed a local following thanks in part to a dinner delivery service they provided at the time. As the ongoing pandemic made isolation a necessity, the business revived the dinner delivery service it had provided decades before.
“There were those people who couldn’t get out or didn’t feel safe, so we wanted to provide some kind of service for them,” Stillwell-Current said.
The revived service, Stillwell-Current said, was not only popular — it was received with gratitude. Customers began dropping off “thank you” cards, many of them handmade, and other notes of thanks. Staff members were treated to food, wine, gift cards to local businesses and other monetary contributions.
“I cried all the time, every time it happened,” Stillwell-Current said. “It was such a heartfelt community effort, and I felt like it was really important.”
As the pandemic has persisted, Current Cuisine has faced many of the same issues plaguing other businesses — particularly those affecting the supply chain.
“The company my husband has bought powdered sugar from forever hasn’t had it for weeks,” Stillwell-Current said. “If you’re a baker, you need your powdered sugar. We just figure out how to find it another way.”
Sunrise Cafe — 259 Xenia Ave.
Just up the block is another long-standing village establishment, Sunrise Cafe. Owner Brian Rainey, who purchased the business in 2004, has seen lots of highs and lows over the years.
However, he described the ups and downs of the past two years as “brutal.”
When statewide lockdowns first began in early 2020 and restaurants were forced to postpone indoor dining, Sunrise had to innovate. Rainey began by offering carryout orders through the restaurant’s front window. During the summer, when limited indoor seating was allowed, Rainey said the business benefited greatly from the crowds that descended on the village for locally based comedian Dave Chappelle’s series of rural comedy performances.
By the fall of 2020, however, the shows had wrapped up, and business eventually slowed, forcing Sunrise to reshape itself again.
“We started doing delivery in the wintertime just to try and supplement our sales,” Rainey said.
In 2021, additional waves of COVID-19 created problems for Sunrise Cafe, specifically with staffing.
“I had to shut down at night for a week because we had no one to cook,” he said.
After that, as infections spiked, staffing became a delicate dance.
“It was like, ‘Who’s sick? Who’s eligible to come back? Who’s going to work tomorrow?’ It was just every day,” he said.
One bright spot along the way has been the minimized impact of supply chain issues. Sunrise’s focus on local partnerships for many of its ingredients has proven to be beneficial, both in terms of pricing and availability.
“It’s interesting how one supply chain issue can lead to so many other issues,” Rainey said.
“Sunrise is blessed with the local stuff.”
Calypso Grill and Smokehouse — 1535 Xenia Ave.
Further down Xenia Avenue, on the south end of the village, is Rainey’s second restaurant, Calypso Grill and Smokehouse. While he already had the idea to open a distinctly unique restaurant as his second venture, Rainey was inspired to make it an authentic Caribbean spot by a trip to the Cayman Islands a few years ago.
“I met this guy named Barry who just makes jerk chicken three days a week in a little roadside shack,” he said.
After returning home, he said his entrepreneurial plans became an obsession, and Calypso opened its doors in March 2018.
When the pandemic hit two years later, and indoor dining was suspended, Calypso was able to continue doing business via its drive-thru window.
“We had cars lined up around the building every night,” Rainey said.
A statewide measure that allowed businesses to sell alcoholic drinks to go was an added bonus, as the restaurant features a specialty cocktail menu. Rainey added that Calypso has offered delivery since its inception, which remained a constant throughout the pandemic.
“We just started cranking out deliveries,” he said.
Though Calypso had some advantages in the early days of the pandemic, Rainey said it hasn’t been all bright spots. Price increases and issues with product availability have been daunting.
“It always seems to be in flux,” Rainey said. “Sometimes I can’t get ribs. Sometimes ribs double in price.”
He added that if he doesn’t watch the continual price changes with a keen eye, it could be a month before he realizes the price of an item has ballooned.
Rainey said that hiring staff has also been a challenge.
“You schedule an interview, and no one shows up,” he said, adding that fluctuations in personnel have taken a toll on the staff he does have.
Even so, Rainey said he believes he now has a solid staff heading into what is typically Calypso’s busy season.
“I do have a feeling that we’ve grown our name, and just being here to serve good food,” he said. “I’m optimistic.”
*The writer is a freelance reporter for the News. He lives in the village and tends bar at Yellow Springs Brewery. He is interested in the arts, the outdoors and social issues. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.