Huntsville businesses embrace new normal during COVID-19

single-meta-cal May 29, 2020

As Alabama works to safely reopen during COVID-19, Fractal Brewing Project is embracing a new normal in Huntsville.

Larry Lowe, who launched the Leeman Ferry Road brewery just eight months ago, had to adjust his entire business strategy to survive the state-ordered shutdown.

Fractal Brewing Project

Fractal Brewing Project owner Larry Lowe purchased picnic tables so customers could enjoy locally-crafted beer outside. (Courtesy)

“We’re down revenue wise easily over 50 percent, so moving forward as a business, it’s going to be how quickly do people come back,” he said. “We have to tailor the business model and business plan to how the consumer’s going to react and how comfortable they are coming back to the brewery.”

Fractal Brewing Project is working hard to ensure both employees and customers are safe. Instead of serving customers in the taproom, they’ve opted to only provide drinks in single-use plastic cups outside.

One-way lanes ensure customers practice safe social distancing both on the patio and near the restroom. To help curb the spread of COVID-19, Lowe said his staff are wearing face covers and wiping down surfaces with disinfectant after each use.

They’re also using Arryved, a point of sale system that offers online ordering and a touchless payment app for customers.

“We’ve received very positive feedback with the steps we’ve taken,” Lowe said.

COVID-19 precautions

Phuket, a Thai restaurant at Village of Providence, has also taken measures to continue operating in the COVID-19 environment.

Suwit Phornroekngam, who operates Phuket with his wife and head chef, Tukky, said outdoor seating is available to help slow the spread of coronavirus in Huntsville.


Some Phuket employees are wearing face coverings and shields for extra protection. (Courtesy)

As staff members arrive for work each day, Phornroekngam said they check their temperatures and monitor each person for signs of sickness. Employees who are well enough to work sport face covers and have the option to also wear a plastic face shield for maximum protection.

“We’ve got a mask and a face shield, like in a hospital kind of deal,” Phornroekngam said. “We don’t require them – only if the employees want to protect themselves. The mask, you protect others, but the face shield protects the wearer.”

Phuket doesn’t require face covers for dine-in guests, but offers a 5 percent discount to those who wear one for sit-down service. For customers who still aren’t comfortable dining in a restaurant, Phuket continues to provide curbside service, carry-out and delivery in the Huntsville area.

Phuket is also offering a Survival Meal Deal, which feeds 4-6 people. For every family-sized meal sold, the restaurant is giving away a free box of chicken fried rice to an unemployed individual who needs help.

Customers who order a Safer at Home Meal Deal also receive a complimentary face covering from Phuket, Phornroekngam said.

Surviving the pandemic these last few months has forced Phuket to get creative.

“We’ve had to adjust quite a bit to the new normal,” he said.

Part of the solution

Earth Touch, a garden center on Whitesburg Drive, closed up shop for the month of April. Cecilia Houser, who runs the business with her husband, Russell, said customers weren’t practicing social distancing in March, leading to the voluntary shutdown.

“We did not want to create more of a problem, so we decided we would close the property,” she said.

Since reopening May 5, Earth Touch is only allowing four customers in its sales building at one time. They’re also encouraging social distancing, offering touchless payment, and providing a hand sanitizer station near the checkout.

We’ve had a good response since we opened. We’ve invested a lot of years into our business and we’re proud of what we have.”

Houser said employees are wearing personal protective gear and washing their hands regularly to prevent the virus from spreading.

“They’re being very conscious,” she said. “I’m proud of them.”

Houser, who is in her 70s, has a personal interest in keeping people safe from COVID-19. The retired teacher said she’s concerned about her and her husband’s health, as well as their son, who works at Earth Touch and has children at home.

Although they did the right thing by shutting down in April, Houser said only time will tell if they survive the pandemic.

“We’ve had a good response since we opened,” she said. “We’ve invested a lot of years into our business and we’re proud of what we have.”

Staying positive

When the pandemic hit, In Bloom Floral Design‘s booked calendar cleared for the months of March, April, May and most of June.

The wedding and special event florist had to reinvent its business model almost overnight to stay afloat. With its downtown Huntsville and Five Points facilities fully stocked for spring, they rushed to find a way to safely move forward.

In Bloom established a no-contact pickup zone at their warehouse location and beefed up porch deliveries to reach more customers. When they lost their supply chain for glass vases, owner Ron Cooper said customers donated hundreds of unwanted vases from their homes.

In Bloom

In Bloom is selling COVID-19 inspired merchandise, including hand towels and napkins. (Courtesy)

The outpouring of support helped In Bloom make it through Easter and Mother’s Day.

“We have a great customer base,” he said. “We’ve tried to show them a lot of love through this and they have returned the favor immensely.”

Cooper said they also sold $20 white mailbox bows to honor the sacrifices of local medical, police, and service workers. In Bloom donated $5 from each white bow sale to Huntsville Hospital Foundation to support COVID-19 mobile testing efforts.

The florist, which temporarily shuttered its downtown store, relied on its large social media following to drum up business. Cooper even released Ron’s Tips, a series of educational videos to keep morale up during quarantine.

Despite the setbacks of COVID-19, Cooper said they had their best Mother’s Day ever and continue to stay very busy.

“It’s just really overwhelming when you stop and think about all the love and support we’ve gotten from our customers,” he said. “They’re what keeps us here and they’re determined we’re going to stay and we are.”