As we approach one year of living in a pandemic, we are interested to see how COVID impacts Camden businesses. Like restaurants across the nation, restaurants close to home feel the impact of COVID and take precautions to avoid the spread inside their businesses. In Camden, two well-known restaurants, Woods Place and Postmasters Grill, are still making the best with modifications and are continuing to operate and make a living.
Woods Place, which serves a mixture of seafood, hamburgers, steaks, fried chicken, and more, has had to look elsewhere from what they used to make on catering, said James Woods, owner. “First off, when we had to shut down, and that was a shock,” he said. “We wondered if we were going to come back and what we would come back like. We’ve moved to more to-go orders, and we’ve done really well with that.” Restaurants that were established with to-go ordering have been able to keep going, he said. “I’m thinking restaurants that didn’t have a good to-go business before the pandemic are having a hard time,” Woods said. “The ones that have drive-thru businesses like your Sonics and your McDonald’s are places that have to-go business anyways. And Woods Place has really done well. A lot of people get the food and take it home.”
The National Restaurant Association reported more than $120 billion of lost revenue in the restaurant industry during the first three months of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Woods said his workforce has only changed by ten people because of the lack of catering events. When those people come back, he will have the 40 workers he is used to having. “We are still doing some catering, but not nearly what we used to,” Woods said. ‘When it is all over, people will have parties like they used to. People are still getting married, but they are putting them off and not having a reception.” Woods Place caters to company picnics that are no longer happening for large corporations such as Albemarle and Lockheed Martin. Other caterings that have been impacted are the parties and gatherings at the Woods Place event venue called River Woods. Luckily, Woods said his business, which is 37 years old, is doing fine without the catering, but it will be nice to hire his additional employees back and do more business when it comes back.
The inside of his restaurant has seen changes because of COVID. Tables have been moved to follow state guidelines for not having people sitting next to each other. Everyone at Woods Place wears a mask, including customers. “Customer wear their mask, and that hasn’t been a problem,” he said. Another thing Woods cites as keeping the restaurant virus-free is the ventilation there. “It seems like with our ventilation in our restaurant, the vent hoods pull everything up through the ceiling, and we have not had a problem with COVID-19 spreading through the restaurant, and I think it’s due to the ventilation system.”
About to celebrate its ninth year of operation, The Postmasters Grill is in the heart of downtown Camden, AR. Originally built as a post office in the 1880s and opened in 1896, the building was added to the National Register in 1977. The unique business has had to deal with COVID issues in its own way.
According to owner Emily Jordan-Robertson, a decline in special events was noticeable in the pandemic, especially in mid to early March 2020. “Everyone in the world started canceling rehearsal dinners, catering, baby showers, anything extra,” she said.
Just like restaurants across the state, Postmasters was closed for eight weeks, but when it reopened, it had the benefit of having a beautiful patio to sit people outside where they felt safer. “Folks felt pretty comfortable on the pretty days, but when it got cooler in the fall, the business all tanked. We felt it much worse as it got into the fall.”
During the state-mandated restaurant closure, we laid off about 85 percent of the employees, she said.
With her staff working hard to serve and keep the business flowing, much care is taken to seat everyone spread out in Postmasters’ different capacities. The new seating arrangement includes a downstairs basement area, the dining room on the main floor, and the patio open when weather permits. Because the restaurant is such a large one, it has been easy to spread out people inside. At full capacity, Postmasters can seat 230 people.
Jordan-Robertson said she is happy to hear any news about the vaccine and plans to get it herself. “It gives me hope for restaurants,” she said. “I know I can’t require employees to take it, but I’ll encourage them to get it, and I’ll be the first in line. The jury is still out on the vaccine, but the gain is better than not.”
Because the pandemic is still underway and people are likely not to go on vacations to the beach, Postmasters Grill hosted special days like Island Day thru the summer on the patio. They offered Italian, German, and English specials throughout the winter. This March, they are providing Irish specials. The restaurant creates unique specials to make customers feel happy with a chance for something different without leaving town. “We like to mix it up because maybe they aren’t getting to go to Little Rock or Hot Springs,” she said. “We are not trying to be competition, but we are just trying to do something special for our guests and give them something their taste buds may be missing.”
Farmers Bank & Trust stands ready to help you or your business with impacts from COVID-19. View COVID-19 resources online, here.
Becky Bell is an award-winning newspaper writer who has worked at numerous newspapers including the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Texarkana Gazette. Prior to becoming a freelance journalist, Becky worked in the Communications Department at Southern Arkansas University and served as University Editor. While working there, she also received a Master’s in public administration.
She is a dog lover and lives with her dog, Queenie Belle, a rescue Papillon-mix, in Magnolia, Arkansas. In her spare time, she volunteers for the Stew Pot at the United Methodist Church and attends Trinity Baptist Church. She also serves on the board of Compassion's Foundation Inc., which helps victims of domestic violence. She was born in Texarkana, Texas, and attended Texas High School where she first started writing stories for the Tiger Times.