In April, when members of the Athens community learned of the suicide of Marti Schimmel, owner of the Marti’s at Midday restaurant, loved ones flooded the porch of the restaurant with flowers and notes.
Over the past six months, community support has helped the Normaltown restaurant continue operating — under pandemic-related restrictions.
Schimmel’s family had no doubt that she wanted them to continue operating the restaurant, said Janet Kloepfer, Schimmel’s mother.
Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, would have been Schimmel’s 49th birthday. To celebrate, Kloepfer used social media to invite people to come to the restaurant. Kloepfer donated $4.90 from each sale of Martha’s Salad that day to Nuçi’s Space, a local organization founded to serve musicians and creatives with mental health resources and other services. The downtown nonprofit was founded in 1999 by members of the family of Nuçi Phillips, a UGA student and Athens musician who died by suicide.
“People have been so gracious, so kind and so supportive,” Janet Kloepfer said of the past months during the pandemic.
Because of the pandemic, dine-in seating at Marti’s at Midday has been reduced to about 25% of its normal capacity, Kloepfer said. The family has plans to enlarge the outdoor deck to increase seating and now uses three delivery services.
It’s not like it was before the pandemic, but she is pleased. “It’s been a learning curve for us,” Kloepfer said.
Schimmel’s younger brother, Jay Kloepfer, decided to join the restaurant team as business manager.
“I’ll be focusing on the business operation,” Jay Kloepfer said. “Or anything else they need, whether it’s making pita chips or mopping the floor at the end of the day.”
Kim Hayes, the front of house manager at Marti’s at Midday, has been with the restaurant for 10 years.
“When Marti passed, Athens surrounded us with open arms and supported our business,” Hayes said.
Marti’s at Midday operates essentially as two businesses — weekday meals at the restaurant and weekend catering, Hayes said. Although the catering side of the business is down, the pandemic has not severely impacted the weekday business, she said.
One reason for the restaurant’s success is the freshness of the food, Hayes said. For example, beginning at 5 a.m., the staff bakes bread for that day’s sandwiches.
The pandemic did change the way Marti’s at Midday handles catering. In the past, the restaurant delivered trays of food, Hayes said. Now, meals are prepared as individual box lunches.
Because of the pandemic, people in the community have purchased boxed lunches for hospitals and doctor’s offices, Janet Kloepfer said. The restaurant has even recently catered a few weddings, she said.
Jane Fitzpatrick has been a customer for about 10 years. She has used Marti’s at Midday’s takeout-only service during the pandemic.
“What a difficult year this has been for the staff, and yet they have not skipped a beat,” Fitzpatrick said. “Their meals are as delicious as ever, served with a cordial greeting and a smile.”