Some Arkansas restaurants still struggling months after state allowed reopening

While some owners are making ends meet, others are unsure if their restaurant will even be able to survive the pandemic.

SALINE COUNTY, Ark. — It’s been two months since the state allowed restaurants to reopen.

Some owners are making ends meet, while others are unsure if their businesses will survive the pandemic.

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“When this first started, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, how is this going to affect us?’” said Leanne Otts, general manager of Pasta J’s in Benton.

Otts showed us a peek inside from the restaurant’s parking lot.

The dining room has a sanitizing station at the front door, a list of precautions the restaurant’s requiring for customers to safely eat inside, and a spaced-out dining room that customers aren’t used to.

“We have 28 tables, but we are only running about 10 tables because that’s all we can have,” said Otts.

You would think with less dine-in customers, the company would be struggling. But instead, Otts said Pasta J’s is thriving much more than expected.

“It’s starting to balance itself out. The drive-thru is strong. We do a lot of small caterings and family meals,” said Otts.

“This has been so tough,” said Elgin Hamner, owner of Wood Grill Buffet in Benton.

Hamner’s struggle looks a lot different.

“We were really thinking this was going to be a 4-5 weeks process, but we are still closed at the end of July,” Hamner said.

Hamner said his restaurant has been closed since March 15.

He got the clear to reopen with every other restaurant two months ago, but he said trying to operate a buffet right now would be detrimental to his business.

“We spend a lot of money on food, being down 40-50% won’t work,” said Hamner.

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The future of opening back up is unknown, but Hamner said he can only survive about four more months without operating.

“Maybe we do have to stay closed through September or October, but at some point, we have to get back into the game or there’s no chance at making it,” said Hamner.