MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When the COVID-19 pandemic closed his restaurants and put much of his staff out of work, a Memphis restaurant owner got creative.
Now his new company, Two Broke Bartenders and A Truck, is spreading across Tennessee, putting temporarily unemployed restaurant staff to work doing jobs in yards and homes.
Taylor Berger owns Party Memphis, which manages Bounty on Broad, Highland Axe and Rec, Loflin Yard, Railgarten and Rec Room.
With dining areas closed and social distancing enforced, he was forced to close his properties — with the exception of Loflin Yard, which operates as a takeout food and grocery market, and Bounty on Broad, which also has takeout food. In a letter he wrote to The Daily Memphian, he called it the worst day of his life.
“It’s extremely disorienting for all of us in the industry,” Berger said. “A lot of people are choosing to wait it out and hope that things return to normal. Myself, I’m not so sure what normal is anymore. I don’t know that it will ever return to the way it was a few months ago.”
Berger said with unemployment climbing in Tennessee and locally, he didn’t have any idea of when all his restaurant staff could get back to work.
But Berger didn’t give up. He launched a company to employ his out-of-work staff members.
“That would connect the people who are stuck at home with my staff, who can still get out and provide the essential services that a lot of people can’t or won’t do for themselves at this time,” Berger said.
Two Broke Bartenders can do many different varieties of jobs, but Berger said they’ve commonly been doing yard work.
Berger said he has about 20 workers and has already served hundreds of customers.
“We’ve been doing some errands for people who can’t get to the store,” Berger said. “A lot of what we’re doing right now, because of the time of year, is outdoor work. We’re kind of becoming landscaping experts.”
It seems many people were in a similar situation — the company has now spread across the state with locations in Nashville and Chattanooga.
Berger reached out to contacts in the service industry in those two cities, and they were eager to get on board.
“I know this is not just a Memphis problem, where you’ve got all the restaurants and bars closed,” Berger said.
Steven Hamblin, who’s bartended at Railgarten for about two years, said he’s glad he has this opportunity to continue working while his regular job is closed.
“It’s better than sitting on my butt collecting straight unemployment,” Hamblin said. “It’s not much, but it’s nice to keep the money coming in. I’ve got a family, a two-and-a-half-year-old.”
Hamblin said he’s gotten to learn skills that will be useful in the future.
“It’s opened my eyes to yard work and chores and stuff, pressure-washing, gardening, cutting the lawn,” he said.
He said he’s glad to see the same people who supported him at Railgarten now supporting him with Two Broke Bartenders.
“A lot of these people are regulars at the bars,” Hamblin said. “And they want to keep their bartenders, who work for tips, keep their pockets full.”
Hamblin and Berger said they hope for a quick return to life as before, but the return likely will be anything but normal.
“Railgarten and Loflin Yard, especially, are built for large gatherings,” Berger said. “And I don’t know how long it will be before people are comfortable doing that. We’re just going to have to do things differently — I don’t know exactly what that looks like.”