Memphis restaurant paying employees to stay home for safety

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Local businesses and restaurants are taking a major hit as they try to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many have been forced to close, while others ride the wave of the unknown.

One restaurant made major changes for the safety not just for customers, but employees too.

Jeff Watkins and JoBeth Graves, owners of Grecian Gourmet Taverna in South Main, are working behind the counter. In fact, the husband and wife are the only two you will see if you stop by to pick up a to-go order.

They sent their three full-time employees home to shelter in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, while still receiving a paycheck.

The two owners got emotional when talking about their love for the community and their employees.

“I could not live with myself if one of them became sick,” JoBeth said.

While business is down about 70% from where it would normally be at this time, JoBeth said they’re blessed to still be able to provide for employees.

“I really did a lot of soul searching, and a moral compass guided me, and I did not want them to fear needing to have a paycheck versus their personal safety,” she said.

Jeff and JoBeth are running the place alone from open to close. They’ve had to make adjustments. 

Jeff mans the front and takes all orders. Jobeth, a retired nurse practitioner, puts the food together.

“When this all began, it was somewhat second nature regarding infection, cross contamination,” JoBeth said. “We started early doing a lot of simple things, like pulling community water, taking everything off the tables.”

Besides wearing the masks, the couple also put other safety measures in place. Tape on the ground reminds customers to maintain six feet of social distance, and some tables have been set up in the back to create a barrier of sorts to keep customers from the kitchen area.

The couple is eager for the day when their dining room will once again be filled with laughter and good times, holding out hope for the future. 

“We feel like George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jeff said. “We’re just trying to hold the old building and loan together, and I’m sure many other restaurant owners and business owners feel that way.”

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