When the coronavirus pandemic hit Georgia in March, Mimi Maumus decided to close her restaurant's dining room following the first COVID-19 case in Athens, she said. Maumus quickly transitioned home.made to a curbside pickup-only model.
“At first, it was doable,” Maumus said. She thought, “we'll do this for a little while, and we'll be fine.”
Maumus started a GoFundMe page to help pay her staff in March, as a precautionary measure.
She did not anticipate how long the pandemic would last, Maumus said. By May she realized the restaurant was losing more money being open for curbside, so Maumus temporarily closed all operations at home.made.
As pandemic restrictions eased, some local restaurants opened for dine-in. Home.made did not. Maumus worries about the long-term health of her staff and customers, she said.
“I’m just not personally comfortable doing dine-in,” Maumus said. “It just doesn’t align with my belief system.”
Maumus will not risk exposing someone to a potentially fatal or lifelong illness, she said.
“Owning a restaurant is about serving people,” Maumus said. “It is about making people comfortable.”
On Nov. 12, home.made opened back up for curbside pickup. Maumus said her decision to reopen stemmed out of “desperation.”
Maumus received aid from the federal funding programs for small businesses — funded by the CARES act — but she is frustrated with the lending programs because the federal government “have changed the rules so many times.”
Maumus also said it’s possible she’ll have to pay back loans from the Payment Protection Program because she had to furlough most of the home.made staff. To get PPP loan forgiveness, business owners need to prove money went toward payroll and unemployment filings, among other financial obligations.
Before the pandemic, 20 people were working at the restaurant from open to close, Maumus said. Now, five people, including Maumus, run the current curbside pickup operation. There’s usually not an extra person to answer the phone.
With the state of the local business scene, Maumus expressed concern about the future of the restaurant business in general. She wonders if people have “gotten used to eating dinner at home” or if they’ll ever feel comfortable eating inside restaurants again. It’s important to consider, however, that while the Athens economy definitely hasn’t bounced back to pre-COVID levels, there’s been noticeable surges in dine-in service.
Maumus worked 14 years to build a business with four sources of income — catering, lunch, dinner and packaged foods, she said. Now, catering is “off the table,” and lunch and dinner have been replaced by curbside pickup with sales that are greatly diminished.
The restaurant’s sales of packaged food have continued, but it has always been the smallest of the four revenue streams, Maumus said.
“As bleak as everything sounds, I think it’s important to note that I feel grateful,” Maumus said. “It’s actually been an inspiring time.”
Maumus has spent some of her time adopting two stray kittens, her “pandemic kitties.” She’s relentlessly thanking her community for support, even though she might possibly be “looking down the barrel of bankruptcy.”
For now, home.made — beloved for its Southern-inspired fare on Baxter Street — is offering curbside pickup for dinner, Thursday through Saturday, 4:30-7:30 p.m. Maumus also announces the occasional lunch pop-up on the restaurant’s social media accounts to offer favorites from the now narrowed-down menu.
“Kind words aren’t paying the bills, but they sure do mean a lot,” she said.