By Tony Hooker
With COVID-19 continuing to dominate our lives, I thought it would be good to check in with local businesses to see how they’re adapting. This week, we’re going to check in with a long-time area grocer, a pizza man, and have a quick conversation with a Mexican restaurant manager.
Rick Bates, Owner of Rick’s Country Market
How long have you been in the Grocery industry?
I’ve been in the industry since 1974, so 46 years.
You’ve seen oil embargoes and everything else in your years in the industry. Is there anything that compares to this Covid-19?
Nothing. Nothing compares to this at all.
Strangely, this has probably been good for your business, right?
You don’t want to ride on the back of a pandemic, and you know at some point it will come back to normal, at least we hope, but it’s been good. It’s been good for anyone who has a grocery store and right now is probably the best time of their life in this business, because it’s a hard business to be successful in. It’s unfortunate that it takes a pandemic for single store grocers in small towns to be successful. They’re probably all having the best business they’ve ever had. In my case, I can say that it’s certainly the best it’s ever been either here or in Homer when it was open.
What have you done differently in response to this pandemic?
I’ve always had delivery. I just haven’t advertised it a lot. If anyone ever calls when I’m here, I’m generally the only one who does it because of insurance concerns, I’ve always delivered. I’ve had a bigger response since the pandemic, to be sure. We’ve just started the curbside service, and that’s going to stay whenever we get back to normal or new normal. We haven’t really done a whole lot differently other than just trying to keep everything clean and sanitized. I’ve left the face masks as options for the girls if they want to wear them. Some do and some don’t. Outside of that, there’s not much different that I can think of.
How has the mood of your customers been? Have they been patient?
For the most part, they’ve been very patient. There’s always a few, of course, that apparently don’t know what’s going on in the world, but 99 percent of them have been very understanding, very complimentary, very grateful that there’s a store in Villa Grove. I think overall, they’ve been very positive. We’re going to get through it together, and I think that’s their attitude. They’ve been wonderful.
Do you see maybe a continual bump since people are grateful?
I’m a tad cynical. <laughs> I’ve been doing this for 46 years, 20 as an owner. I’m hopeful that we might see a little bump with people being thankful that we have a store. I’m hopeful that there’s a bump, but I also have to be realistic and think that it might go back to the way it was, which wasn’t bad. We’ve been able to survive, but we always would like it to be better.
So you’ve not put a down payment on a condo in Florida? <smiles>
No down payment on a condo, no pending retirement coming up. <laughs> No Mercedes Benz in the parking lot. I’m a pretty humble and modest guy, and that’s how I live and how I’ll stay no matter how good business is! <smiles>
Is there anything you would like to add?
I’m very grateful. The customers are grateful, but we’re thankful and grateful to be here, and we’re thankful and grateful for the people here in Villa Grove and the surrounding areas who patronize us. They’ve been very complimentary to my staff. Everyone here has worked very hard to keep the shelves stocked with what our suppliers have been able to provide us. I’m fortunate to be in Villa Grove, it’s a wonderful town. It’s a small town, like Tolono or Homer, where I’ve been before. I’m in my element. I’m thankful for everyone who appreciates us, and for those who aren’t quite as appreciative, I’m hopeful that maybe some day they will be. It’s a wonderful little town and I’m glad to be here.
Jason Wienke-Manager Monical’s Pizza of Villa Grove
How long have you worked in the food industry?
I’ve worked here 26 years.
Of course, the pizza place here in Villa Grove was started by your grandparents. How long have they been involved?
Has there ever been anything that can come close to comparing to what’s happening right now?
I’ve never had anything that compares.
I see that the dining room is closed. What sort of accommodations have you had to make because of COVID-19?
We haven’t had to do a whole lot of anything different, other than not allowing anyone into the restaurant. They have to call when they get here, which can be kind of a nuisance, but it’s working out ok.
Have you developed any new business practices that you’ll carry forward if and when we come out of this?
I think we have. I know that here and in Arcola, we’ve been much more regimented in our cleaning schedule. It’s much more of a stickler now.
What’s been the general mood of your customers as we’ve gone through this?
I think most people are pretty happy. We haven’t really lost any business at all. The first week they did the lock down, we were pretty slow. The Friday, Saturday and Sunday were really slow, but every week since then has been going up. Last week, we beat the week from the prior year, and this week, we’re way ahead of the prior year as well. The delivery people aren’t going to be happy when it goes back to normal <laughing> there have been a lot more delivery orders. People are tipping extremely well and ordering a lot more deliveries.
Has your staff acclimated to the situation pretty well?
I think so. Some of the girls miss their tips, of course but most people are tipping pretty well on carry outs, and we just throw it into a pool and divide it up at the end of the night.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
I don’t think so. I just wish it would get over so I could go golfing! (interview occurred before Governor Pritzker announced that he was lifting the ban on May 1)
Everado Ocampo is the manager of El Rancho Grande in Villa Grove
How long have you worked in the restaurant business?
I’ve worked in Villa Grove for three years.
Is there anything that you can compare this to?
No. Nothing can compare to not being able to have our customers come in and sit down.
What sort of things are you doing to continue serving your customers?
We are serving carry-out only.
I see that you are putting new floors in. Was this planned before the pandemic?
We were planning on putting the floors in before COVID-19, but this was good timing.
Have you changed how you do things in a way that may continue when things get back to normal?
Yes. We will continue to do carry outs.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I just want to say thanks to my customers.