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New dining co-op allows customers to have food delivered while restaurants help each other during COVID-19

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IDAHO FALLS – The coronavirus pandemic is having a huge impact on the way local businesses typically operate and restaurants are taking a huge hit.

In the wake of Gov. Brad Little’s 21-day “stay-home” order, restaurants are now forced to either close or offer take-out and delivery only.

“Business is down 70% since the Governor’s order,” Dixie’s Diner Owner/Manager Tom Hersh tells EastIdahoNews.com. “Transitioning to take-out only is going to hurt us bad.”

In response to the crisis, Cafe Sabor Owner Justin Hamilton created a way for restaurants to band together by creating the Idaho Falls Dining Cooperative.

Any restaurant owner who wishes to participate simply fills out a form on the group’s website. The restaurant’s name and tagline will then be listed on the front page, along with a phone number, hours of operation and a link where people can order directly from the menu.

The goal of the co-op, Hamilton says, is to give the community a single platform where they can support local restaurants. It also gives eateries an opportunity to help each other survive.

Taking care of customers and employees during this time is foremost on a restaurant owner’s mind, Hamilton says, and with the “stay-home” order in place, it’s challenging for some restaurants to do that. Some may not have offered delivery services and now they don’t have the means to do that.

Hamilton and his team are trying to help by providing a free delivery service to restaurants that are struggling.

Screenshot from the co-op’s website. | Rett Nelson, EastIdahoNews.com

“We do a lot of catering and we have catering vehicles. Catering went away at the beginning of the month when large group gatherings were eliminated by the federal government. So we’re using our catering vehicles to provide this free delivery service for those restaurants who don’t have a way to do delivery,” Hamilton says.

It also allows employees a way to continue to make money.

“For servers and people who live on tips, this is a pretty rough time to survive,” says Hamilton. “By providing this delivery service, we are giving many of these employees an opportunity to continue working.”

Hamilton owns Cafe Sabor restaurants in many cities, including Ammon and Logan, Utah, where he launched a similar co-op last week to rave reviews. More than 30 restaurants have joined.

Since launching the website for the Idaho Falls Dining Cooperative Wednesday night, at least half a dozen restaurants have signed up.

Dixie’s Diner in Idaho Falls was one of the first restaurants to join the group. Hersh says he hasn’t yet received any orders through the co-op because it’s still in the early stages.

“But I think this gesture by Justin is very selfless,” Hersh says. “I want us all to succeed and do well.”

Hersh says having competitors nearby who jump in and support each other creates a sense of community and makes Idaho Falls better.

“We hope that it continues to grow. Idaho Falls is similar to the Logan market. Every day, four or five more restaurants want to jump on and be a part of it,” Hamilton says.

As a small business owner, Hamilton knows how hard people work under normal conditions to be successful. The challenges only increase during these difficult times, he says, and the way to get through it is to rally each other and find a way to support each other and lift each other up.

“There are a lot of unknowns. We don’t know how long this is going to last or what’s going to happen. We all have to do our part to keep these local businesses alive and well and operating,” Hamilton says. “Through this co-op, we hope that we form these relationships and this support for each other and that on the other side of this, we’ve grown closer. Hopefully, it makes us better to continue to grow together in the good times just as in the bad times.”

Idaho Falls Economic Development Coordinator Dana Briggs says the co-op is a great resource for restaurants and the community and she encourages people to utilize it.

“During a time of rapid change for the restaurant industry, establishing a co-op of restaurants to support one another is something to be admired. Café Sabor’s leadership and innovation in quickly creating a resource that community members can utilize and restaurants will benefit from,” Briggs says. “I encourage all restaurants and members of our community to explore this comprehensive tool.”

There’s no cost to join the group. If you’re a restaurant owner and would like to learn more, click here. You can also order food from the page and have it delivered to your home.

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