At KY Mountain Deli on Scaffold Cane Road in Berea, Rick Mallo took advantage of a brief break in the rain and a spot of sunshine on the first day of spring in Kentucky in between to-go orders at the authentic Italian deli.
Clad in gloves, Mallo, a native of the Northeast, said he was enjoying the warmer temperatures of his new home, where he and Karen Melbourne opened the deli in early December.
A bright red sign hung in the wall-to-wall windows of the business which stated 'Keep Calm and Carry Out' -- words Mallo and Melbourne are taking to heart amid the rapid changes the restaurant has faced due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Just three days ago, Mallo and Melbourne watched as Gov. Andy Beshear ordered that all restaurants and bars close their dine-in facilities to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Businesses that offer carry-out, delivery, and drive-through food and beverage service may continue to do so, but eating and drinking inside restaurants and bars is temporarily prohibited.
It's a change, that Mallo and Melbourne never saw coming.
The proprietors of the deli, which specializes in hand-crafted sandwiches, soups and salads, said they never imagined a virus would be one of the hurdles they would face in trying to establish their new business.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy. We joke all the time about how we haven't seen all the great things to do in this town. We haven't had a chance to go the Pinnacles or really get out much. We've been here, focused on getting our business up and running. We knew it was going to take a while and we would be here mostly in the first few months, but we never expected this," Melbourne said of the impacts of having a new business during the pandemic.
Mallo said he and Melbourne were looking forward to spring and the opportunities to expand their business.
Now, their dining room is empty.
"I miss people being in here," Melbourne said. "The people in Berea and Richmond are so friendly and have been great to us. We loved them being in the dining room. We would have some great talks with everyone and just get to know our neighbors and the community."
Mallo and Melbourne said the friendly support was one of the main reasons they wanted to open a business in Berea and hopefully retire in the small town.
"People here are so great. They are probably the most friendly people we have ever been around," Mallo said.
The deli opened in early December and has continually tried to get the word out to the community of their presence.
"We opened shortly before Christmas and we did good with the college and they were ordering party platters. We were so grateful and appreciated. Then the holidays came, New Years, it slowed down a little. Then, we started getting some good people who came in and started becoming regulars. We were very excited. We were moving forward," Melbourne said.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and Berea College shut down, followed soon by the new regulations for local restaurants.
"It's not a steady flow like before. We have a lot of loyal customers, but I think everyone is a little scared and just don't know what to do," Melbourne explained.
To make matters a little more stressful, Melbourne said the deli has had difficulty finding fresh ingredients amid the panic-buying going on at stores.
"I keep looking for cabbage so I can make coleslaw," Melbourne said with a shrug. "I make all of our deli salads fresh and I never imagined it would be hard to find good, fresh cabbage."
Another hitch was the tornado that ripped through Nashville last month.
According to Mallo and Melbourne, the storms damaged Restaurant Depot a huge food vendor for restaurants in Tennessee. Now, those restaurant owners are flocking to Louisville for their supplies -- putting stress on local eateries like KY Mountain Deli.
"We get a lot of our food out of Louisville. We have to go more often now because of the lack of product… We are having a hard time getting bread," Melbourne explained.
The proprietors, despite the logistic wrangling, are committed to continuing to serve the community they grew to love.
The business has always had a delivery service, but said they are willing to expand their span to reach families in need. The deli has also encouraged customers to continue to utilize pick-up orders.
Mallo said the restaurant has continued to clean and sanitize everything and he wears and switches out gloves for every delivery.
"It's just the two of us now, we don't have anyone helping us, but we are committed to keeping people safe and continuing to serve them. We want to do whatever we can to make people feel better and keep them safe," Mallo said.
The deli is also upping its orders on bread and meats so that community members can order some grocery staples if they can't find it in local grocery stores.
"Times are just so different. We want to do whatever we can do to make it better and easier on people. With so many people at home now, moms with their kids, they don't want to have to get out in the grocery stores. We can provide them with fresh, sliced meat and bread for sandwiches or salads. We can deliver it to their house or they can pick it up. We hope having that convenience will be helpful in this time," Melbourne said.
Mallo said they are working hard to make sure the community knows that the deli is there for the people of Madison County.
"It's what we can do. Be able to provide a pound of bologna and a loaf of bread to someone who might be hungry. Everyone loves a good sandwich and we have some loyal people. We appreciate the support and want to give that right back," Mallo said.
The deli owners said they will work with customers on expanding delivery options, something they have already done for one loyal customer who lives closer to Richmond.
"If they want an order and if they can wait till around closing time, I don't mind running an order up there," Mallo said. "We want to reach out and do what we can for the community. They have embraced us and we are so thankful."
One local business in Berea recently experienced the support of the community when they reached out to locals on Facebook expressing concern about the ability to keep their staff paid during the pandemic.
Hole & Corner Donuts posted this earlier this week on their Facebook page:
"Alright, we're being vulnerable. This is a 'it's getting real' post. Our little donut operations might not be able to survive this hit, but boy, are we trying. We just need to sell 15 boxes a day (we're only open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays) each week to pay our staff. And at this point, that is all we're trying to do. Keep our staff afloat. If you are at all in a position to let us brighten your day with a fresh box of hot donuts each week, we'd humbly accept your generosity..."
A day later, the business reported that locals had ordered 50 boxes of donuts.
"We are humbled (and a bit speechless) by your generosity," the business responded.
Other restaurants have encouraged locals during this uncertain time to not only keep their favorite eateries in mind, but also other local businesses.
Kinsey Henderson, the owner of Mad Mushroom, posted a Facebook video this week in which he highlighted other local businesses that will need some help as the coronavirus pandemic continues to shutter salons, boutiques and major shopping outlets like JCPenneys and Kohls.
"During this difficult time, I am reaching out to the community of Richmond and Madison County to ask for your continued support of our amazing local businesses… If you have the means, go get that new pair of shoes you've had your eye on from Soft Shoe, a beautiful new dress from Olive You… or get that new piece of gear from Mike's Hike and Bike... At the very least, stop in your favorite place and grab a gift card to use at a later day. I ask that we use this period of social distancing to bring our community together. Support your friends, neighbors and your community," Henderson said during the video.
For Mallo and Melbourne, who have been self-employed for much of their adult lives, they said they are viewing the pandemic as just another hurdle and have made it their mission to continue to serve for as long as possible and they encourage other small businesses to stay calm.
"It's always been feast or famine. We've been through it. So, I think we are little more calm than maybe some others. I know what's it like to look up and not have any work scheduled… Then all of sudden someone looks down on you and you have some business again. The community has done so much to take us in and we would never walk out on them now, especially during a time like this," Mallo said. "You stick together in times like this."
Melbourne said while the pandemic is new territory for everyone, KY Mountain Deli is determined to survive.
"We will make through it, because we are determined. We love it here and we are not disappointed in any way that we made the choice to move here and open the deli," Melbourne said.
The owner said she hopes soon that the world will look back on the coronavirus pandemic and view it as a time when people banded together and found hope.
"I was telling Rick the other day, that if we can make it through this, there is no way we can't make it here. There will be nothing stopping us after this," Melbourne said.