Reno’s on the Runway was open for just six months when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020.
The state’s stay-at-home order forced the Yakima restaurant to shut down indoor dining. Owner Donnie Foster had to let staff go.
While the experience was far from ideal, Foster said he gained valuable lessons.
“Be able to adapt to any situation,” he said.
Indeed, business owners like Foster had to adapt and pivot as the pandemic forced them to scale back or shut down operations. With coronavirus restrictions lifted June 30, they’re finding that the changes they made provide benefits beyond the pandemic.
For 10 months, Foster ran his restaurant out of a sliding window on the side of the restaurant. People were able to order ahead and pick up orders at the window.
“That pretty much is what kept us going,” he said.
The restaurant resumed indoor dining about three months ago. Like other restaurants that have reopened and ramped up operations in recent months, hiring has been a challenge.
While it’s fully open, the restaurant continues to deliver orders through the takeout window. The restaurant has maintained a robust to-go business, and many customers still like calling ahead and picking up at the window.
“A lot more people will go to it because it’s quicker,” he said.
Nini Van De Venter opened Z Fit Studio, which offers Zumba classes, in January 2020. Van De Venter started the business as a side venture; she had a full-time job as a paraprofessional for the West Valley School District and was working toward a bachelor’s degree in education through an online program with Brigham Young University-Idaho.
“I love dancing,” she said. “I knew a lot of people wanted to do Zumba.”
Van De Venter also was taking business classes for her new fitness business.
When the pandemic hit, Van De Venter had to be a quick study in keeping her business going.
She tried online classes, which didn’t help as far as paying bills, but provided a means for her to stay engaged with customers. She also secured business grants that helped cover her studio rent at Meadowbrook Mall.
More recently, she started a summer outdoor market outside Meadowbrook Mall at 72nd Avenue and Nob Hill Boulevard. The venture was done to complete an assignment for her college business class. Van De Venter believed it would also provide an opportunity to promote other businesses, including the vendors at the market and the tenants inside Meadowbrook Mall.
“My hope is I am able to continue it, and the (revenue) can be used toward my studio,” she said.
She was able to resume in-person classes at Z Fit Studio last fall at limited capacity. It is now at full capacity.
She started offering an option for people to book and pay for classes ahead of time to ensure that classes were not too full when she was operating at partial capacity. But she found that customers liked the option to book and pay ahead of time, so she plans on resuming that feature even though she has no capacity limits. People were more likely to show up if they secured a spot ahead of time.
“We have some people from Moxee, Terrace Heights and Selah,” she said. “It was beneficial for them.”
Van De Venter said the loyal customers she managed to gain in a short time are what motivates her to make the business work despite all the difficulties.
“They were all rooting for me to survive,” she said. “I love to see people happy. I love to see people dancing and enjoying themselves. If my studio could do that for them, that’s what I want to do.”
Kerry Shiels, winemaker at Côte Bonneville in Sunnyside, had a running list of things to work on “whenever I had a minute.”
“With the pandemic, the minute was now,” she said.
Shiels’ said she felt the winery successfully found ways to engage with the winery’s customers while the Sunnyside tasting room was closed or at limited capacity.
During the first several months of the pandemic last year, Shiels hosted a virtual happy hour on Zoom. Each week, there was a theme, and Shiels brought in different guests, such as restaurant owners, to add variety and draw audiences.
Shiels also spent time creating new content for the winery’s social media outlets. She worked on videos that would post on the winery’s YouTube channel and filmed weekly segments for Instagram, such as one following the development of a vine at DuBrul Vineyard, the winery’s estate vineyard.
“I found that video is great,” she said. “The pandemic was the opportunity to take the time to learn how to (produce video) and get better at it.”
The new digital content and regular contact through virtual platforms, such as Zoom, didn’t only help the winery maintain a customer base but strengthened it.
“It’s really powerful to have a deeper relationship with your customers,” she said. “We knew that, but it was really reinforced last year that the people who have relationships and are invested in what you’re doing are incredibly powerful. They’re your biggest supporters. They’re your biggest advocates.”
That’s why Shiels wants to keep posting digital content on social media and maintain some of the virtual events developed during the pandemic. The challenge, however, is figuring out how to produce that content now that the testing room and winery are open.
What has worked is to focus on a few critical efforts. So Shiels opted to continue one of the Instagram weekly features, called Tasting Tuesday. She also opted to keep doing the virtual happy hours, but they’re held monthly rather than weekly.
“Last year was big in experimentation,” she said. “I think all these things will continue to get refined, targeted and more sophisticated.”