MUSKEGON, Mich. — Small businesses everywhere in Michigan have been deeply impacted by COVID-19 and the restrictions within the state, including one in Muskegon that helped its community last year by giving away free meals to families in need.
One year later, the roles have reversed, as the same restaurant may have to close its doors if the community can't return the favor and help the popular eatery survive.
Soon after COVID-19 came to Michigan in March 2020, forcing a statewide shutdown that lasted months, the Curry Kitchen in downtown Muskegon wanted to help struggling and needy community members.
"We started offering free meals to people every Wednesday between the hours of 5 and 8 p.m.," said Raj Grewal, who owns Curry Kitchen and Naan Pizza, which are adjoining restaurants in downtown Muskegon. "The need was so great, we quickly started offering free means on Saturdays, too."
Raj says Curry Kitchen didn't limit the number of free means they gave out.
"Community members would line up outside," Raj said. "Sometimes we had customers coming in with big baskets taking 10 meals at a time for their whole family."
Raj says the free meal giveaways lasted for 6 months.
"Every week, we were offering the community between 1,000 and 1,500 meals," Raj said. "We probably gave out 23,000-plus meals throughout Muskegon County."
One year after the pandemic and Curry Kitchen's free meal initiative both began, the small, Indian cuisine eatery is facing closure and needs the same community it helped to return the favor.
"People have gotten used to online sales," Raj said. "It's convenient, but at the end of the day, companies like DoorDash, Grubhub and Uber Eats get 30% commission.
"That's 30% of our profit gone."
The 25% capacity rule that was implemented before Michigan restaurants reopened for dine-in customers Feb. 1 isn't helping Curry Kitchen stay afloat.
"Because of the size of the restaurant, we can only serve four tables at one time," added Raj. "Our staff doesn't want to work because they can't make enough in tips."
Since the 25% reopen a month ago, Raj says not only are the dine-in customers not coming, but online and takeout sales have also dropped significantly in recent weeks.
"The bigger restaurants around town have more seating than we do," Raj said. "25% capacity for them isn't as impactful as it is for a small establishment like Curry Kitchen."
Raj decided on Friday, Feb. 26 to craft a post to the Curry Kitchen's Facebook page, letting the restaurant's followers know about its dire situation.
The post read: "Curry Kitchen [has] been in Muskegon family for 9 years. Need help otherwise we will be closing soon."
As of Monday, March 1, that post had been shared over 1,800 times.
"The community responded to the past this past weekend and many came to dine-in," Raj said. "But I'm afraid that post may be fleeting."
Raj says Curry Kitchen needs community members to come dine-in at the restaurant or call the restaurant to place takeout orders.
"We're adding more phone lines at the restaurant to better handle the takeout orders," Raj said. "But, please come and dine-in."
"We want to stay here. Our customers have become family to us and we want to keep serving them."
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