Op-Ed: The Hornet Turns 25 During COVID Restaurant Shutdown

The Hornet then and now.
The Hornet then and now. Joni Schrantz
It all started for me on Labor Day weekend seventeen-plus years ago. I was a recent college grad who yearned for one last winter of skiing and sunshine. I interviewed at The Hornet and was looking to take a job as a bar manager, as the then-current manager was taking on a wine-rep position. When she ended up not leaving, I told the general manager that I was willing and eager to take on any position and work my way up. Back then, the Hornet was a different place, as was Broadway and the Baker District. When we opened in 1995, there were few restaurants on Broadway and the neighborhood was young and eclectic. The Hornet was bar-centric and beaming with energy. I would work my way from server and busser to bartender and assistant manager. The next summer, I was fortunate that the owners believed in a 24-year-old to take over the reins and run this place. More than seventeen years later, I am lucky to call myself one of the owners.

Fast-forward all these years and I have developed one big family. There are still kitchen employees who have been here longer than me, and those who haven't have still been here for a decade or more. We have had many incredible front-of-house staff members along the way, also, many of whom have put in five to ten or more years. Like most restaurant owners and managers, staff becomes family, as most of us see our co-workers more than our families.

I always thought that as long as I worked my butt off and took care of the incredibly hard-working people around me, that nothing could stop this restaurant. I STILL BELIEVE THAT. This has been the hardest stretch of time that I can remember. We’ve been through cars driving into our building in 2018 and 2019 to the point where we had to operate at 50 percent capacity before and we pulled through that. How was this unknown virus going to stop us? Like most restaurants, we have had to lay off staff members not once, but twice during the pandemic. Without real outdoor options and a quiet Broadway, we continue to operate at a loss. The city and state have left us few other options. The sales that we used to do on a single Sunday brunch now equate to a full week’s worth of work. The federal money has dried up for many small businesses, and yet we continue to operate with our future in limbo.
click to enlarge The Hornet's secluded back patio is lovely, but doesn't hold many tables. - JNI SCHRANTZ
The Hornet's secluded back patio is lovely, but doesn't hold many tables.
Jni Schrantz
Why do we keep the doors open? It is for the staff. While it would be more cost-effective to just shut the doors and wait this thing out, we all have families to think about. We try to keep as many hours on the schedule as we can so that staff can stay off unemployment. Many of them are looking at new careers or going back to school. It feels like I just cannot stop losing family members. While they all have to do what is best for them, it is extremely sad and disheartening to lose any of them. They, at least, have the option to go find a new career. I am too deep into this life and career, and I must see it through. While they may look at things a little shorter-term, I, like most restaurateurs, am trying to look at the future of restaurants with a crystal ball. If the Hornet can only hang on, is there a brighter day?

Of course there is. People yearn to gather and eat out again. People love packed restaurants. There is something so lively about it that makes it nearly impossible to describe. The noise, the smells, the smiles. It is that emotional break from reality that we currently all so desperately desire.

I write this on the eve of our restaurant’s 25th anniversary, December 15, 2020, which will never be what I pictured it to be years ago. It was supposed to be a day full of celebrated memories. It was supposed to be a day when we could give thanks to the neighborhood that has supported us for a quarter of a century. It was supposed to be about celebrating all the staff members and family members who made this place tick. Well, it won’t be that. It will be a day of to-go orders and a few brave souls who can bundle up and sit outside on a chilly day. I choose to look forward, stay positive and focus on how we are going to make it another 25 years.

First, we need to do everything we can to reopen society.

While I know we are all over this pandemic, it is so imperative that we do all of the necessary things so that businesses can reopen. This pandemic has brought out the best in so many, and yet there are a few that have to ruin it by letting out their worst. I know that our restaurant is just one small speck of what is going on in the restaurant industry. There are so many affected by this disaster in our supply chain. They all have their own families. I ask that everyone show just a hint of compassion for each other, as you never know whose life has been deeply affected.

The Hornet is located at 76 Broadway and is open for takeout and outdoor seating from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Call 303-777-7676 or visit the Hornet's website for details and online ordering.
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