While the COVID-19 pandemic forced significant changes in everyday life, and forced closure of some small businesses, select eateries in the area weathered the crisis by offering new and different services, and doubling down on diners’ favorites.
Putting on the ‘Brake’
“We definitely took a bit hit in 2020,” said Ernie Slater, who owns and operates with his wife, LaDonna, Henry’s Brake Room, at 220 Kansas, in Drummond.
The restaurant, which has been open since 2010, followed Enid’s lead in pandemic response and closed for six weeks, beginning in March 2020.
After the closure, Slater said he and LaDonna added carry-out and delivery options “to keep going” during the pandemic.
The carry-out and delivery options followed the Brake Room’s regular hours — 5-9 p.m. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.
Meal options followed the rotation to which Brake Room diners have become accustomed: Tuesdays are a buffet option, alternating between tacos one week and a rotation of barbecue, jambalaya, smothered beef steak with brown gravy and smothered pork chop with white gravy on the alternate week.
Fridays are “Fried Friday” at the Brake Room, with fried shrimp, catfish, chicken, okra, hush puppies and spicy fries. Slater said he expanded the fried offerings to catch people’s interest during the carry-out-only phase of the pandemic and has since continued the expanded Friday menu for dine-in guests. All of the fried offerings are hand battered and fried at the Brake Room.
Saturdays are an area favorite at Henry’s Brake Room, with diners coming in from surrounding towns for steak night. Slater drives down to Oklahoma City every Thursday to bring back aged Angus beef to serve on Saturday.
The New York strips, filets, ribeye, T-bone steaks and rack of lamb served on Saturdays “seem to get everyone’s attention,” Slater said.
Being forced to operate outside the normal routine also led Slater to expand into catering, which is available by reservation, along with parties at the restaurant.
With the new offerings, Slater said he hopes 2021 will be a better year than 2020.
“We’re just trying to keep the doors open,” he said. “It’s making it a challenge for sure in the food industry.”
Travis Turner, owner of Okeene Burger Station and Longdale Burger Station, said challenges have differed at his two locations.
At the Okeene Burger Station, 118 E. Oklahoma, business didn’t take much of a hit due to the pandemic, Turner said.
With its small-town diner feel, handmade burgers and hand-cut fries, the Burger Station has become a favorite over the last six years with locals and travelers alike.
And, with the availability of a drive-through window, Turner said people kept coming for burgers and fries when he had to close the dining area.
“When it did close down, everyone could just come right through the drive-through window, and we didn’t notice too much of a drop-off at that point,” Turner said.
But, his restaurant in Longdale doesn’t have a drive-through window, and he said business “dropped off quite a bit over there.”
“We still made it through,” Turner said, adding he hopes renewed lake traffic on Canton Lake this spring will bring back business to his Longdale location.
Turner serves up handmade burgers and fries in Okeene, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and until 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
Ready for a rebound
In Hennessey, fans of the homemade breads, pies and comfort food at Eat It Up! bakery and cafe have started returning for dine-in fare.
But, owner Tracy Solis said the combination of a slumping oil and gas industry in the Kingfisher County area and the COVID-19 pandemic have made the last year a hard one in the restaurant business.industry.
“It’s been really hard,” Solis said. “It’s not just the COVID. The oil and gas industry isn’t doing well either. And, if people aren’t going to school and they’re not going to work, they’re not going out to eat, and with COVID people were pretty afraid — and that’s made it a lot harder.”
The need for extra caution among the elderly population during the pandemic also put a hurt on Solis’ breakfast business.
“In our community the people who go out to eat breakfast are generally older people,” Solis said, “and when that’s your target group that you’re telling to stay home and not go out, that makes it hard.”
Eat It Up! kept going through the worst of the COVID-19 shutdown with curbside and delivery service.
The business also helped out in the community by picking up Meals on Wheels routes during the shutdown and offering delivered meal boxes.
While business has started to rebound, Solis said her business is still down 65% or 70% compared to pre-COVID-19 numbers for this time of year.
Solis said she had to streamline her menu last summer, as suppliers had a hard time keeping up with certain items, and the prices of eggs and beef skyrocketed.
But, with supply now more stable, Solis said diners can expect to enjoy homestyle food, like chicken fried steaks and pork chops, charbroiled burgers and sandwiches on homemade bread, along with pies, cakes and cobblers.
Solis remains cautiously optimistic business will continue to rebound.
“I’m hoping the oil and gas industry will get better, and with the vaccines people will have a little renewed confidence,” Solis said, “but it doesn’t seem yet to be the feeling here — that anyone is more confident.”
Eat It Up! is open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 5-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday.