Odyssey World Cafe adapts and stays open during pandemic • Paso Robles Press
PASO ROBLES – Hear Odyssey World Cafe co-owner John Hawley talk about the past four months and it feels like there’s nothing his team can’t handle.
They’ve seen it all during the COVID-19 pandemic, from the full stop and take-out only, to limited-seat restaurants and alfresco dining.
âIt’s a little fuzzy now to tell you the truth,â Hawley said. “We just continued to react as quickly as possible to any changes that occurred.”
The first half of 2020 was shaping up to be one of the best years for Hawley and Dawn Gregory restaurant that opened 23 years ago on Pine Street in downtown Paso Robles.
âBusiness was very good. It was going to be a great year, âsaid Hawley.
Then, on March 18, everything was shut down by Governor Gavin Newsom to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
âIt hit us askance,â said Hawley. âWe went into panic mode. We had to close. How do we survive is the reason for the panic.
Odyssey employs around 25 people and Hawley said everyone is considered family.
âThey have families who depend on us. It’s very difficult for us when we have to fire people, âsaid Hawley. âWe reacted very quickly as small businesses can. We were able to adapt, but we had to let some people go, which was not what we wanted to do. “
Hawley staff received unemployment benefits, while the restaurant was closed for a few weeks. During this window, they moved forward with some renovation projects and started to implement their exit and sidewalk plan.
Like many businesses, Odyssey has applied for and received loans from the Small Business Association and the Paycheck Protection Program.
The company had also taken out a loan before COVID-19 for the remodel.
âFortunately, they quickly offered the SBA and PPP loans and I accepted straight away. With one of them, I ended up being the 273rd in the country. I was on it, âHawley said. âSo we had the money, but you have to pay it all back, so it’s not a profit. “
While not for-profit, the loans have allowed Odyssey to bring back staff and ramp up its take-out and collection programs. Odyssey, which prides itself on offering high-quality food with flavors from all over the world, had take-out before, but nothing quite like what they did during the height of the shutdown.
âWe discovered that take out is like opening another restaurant. It’s totally different, âsaid Hawley. âThere was a lot of work to do. “
Odyssey added another phone line and online ordering to its website and connected to four different delivery services that required modified menus to meet their needs.
âWe got very involved,â said Hawley. âAfter a little while, we got it. We have developed new systems. We’re pretty good at it. “
This brought Odyssey to a time when it could add meals outside and then bring people inside, albeit with limited seating due to social distancing.
After a short period of adjustment due to the restaurant’s reopening, Hawley said they were starting to feel like they had turned a corner – their loyal customers and tourists were back.
âEverything was working and we were like ‘Ahh, we did it.’ And then Sunday, we saw it coming. We were like here, we’re going back, âsaid Hawley.
Odyssey and other affected restaurants have closed indoor restaurants again and are looking for ways to add more outdoor seating.
Hawley was excited to see Paso Robles City Council move forward with temporary street closures around the downtown city park. This will allow impacted businesses to add more tables outside.
âIt will save our butt,â Hawley said. “I have no doubts that our restaurants will survive, maybe not prosper but will survive, which is good at this point.”
Hawley said they could have kept the doors closed and waited for the reopening, but that was never really considered.
âOne of the things that we thought was important, and we’ve heard from other companies, is that we have to maintain a presence as a support for the customers and the city,â said Hawley. âWe didn’t want a bunch of closed businesses. It doesn’t do anyone any good. So we said we would find a solution.