Phil Johnson compares his last few months as a small business owner to riding a motorcycle.
“You might hit a pothole and lose your footing," he says, "but if you hit three potholes in a row, you’re probably going to fall off your bike."
Johnson is the owner and pitmaster of Trapp Haus BBQ, located in the Roosevelt Row Arts District in downtown Phoenix. After contending with the forced closure of his restaurant because of COVID-19 and finally being able to reopen for dine-in on May 11, Johnson has had to shut his doors once again this week because of the statewide curfew imposed by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey.
The curfew was announced Sunday in response to nationwide protests on the heels of the killing of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis on May 25, including several in Phoenix and Tucson. All Arizonans have been ordered to stay home from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. until June 8 unless exempted. The order states that first responders, those traveling to or from work, and those patronizing a private establishment are considered exempt.
Trapp Haus has completely closed its doors until Thursday, when reopening will be reevaluated. On May 31, the first day of the curfew, the restaurant closed at 6 p.m. to give staff members and customers enough time to get home.
“I wanted to make sure they were at least out of here before the curfew was in effect, at least for their safety,” he says.
Johnson says he believes the order is too broad and should have been more geared to protesters rather than the general public. He also says 8 p.m. is early for a curfew, as the protests in Phoenix haven’t escalated until 10 or 11 p.m.
The curfew comes on the heels of Johnson having to rehire staff, train them, and contend with rising meat prices caused by the ongoing pandemic — more potholes. Still, Johnson has been leading his staff in safety meetings every morning, discussing how to deal with ornery customers and de-escalate situations should they arise.
“Everybody is going through something, some kind of stress,” he says. “We just need to show more love at this time and understanding of peoples’ feelings.”
Grace Perry, owner of Gracie’s Tax Bar, is also doing her best to navigate this time with understanding.
While Gracie’s is only handling to-go orders at this time and thus less impacted by the curfew as dine-in restaurants, she says she feels for her community.
“With everything going on and Gracie’s being so close [to the protests], I just have so much empathy and heartbreak for what’s going on,” says Perry. “That’s where my brain is focused right now.”
She closed her bar at 7 p.m. on Sunday and will do so for the duration of the curfew, even if that means Gracie's is only open for five hours a day.
“Most of my staff lives downtown and their safety is way more important than me making 20 bucks on a bottle of Jameson,” she says. “My staff and the community is on the forefront of every decision I make.”
That's also why Gracie’s still isn't offering seating, and will likely stay that way for a while. The bar’s small space, coupled with a lack of hosts and assigned seating, makes social distancing difficult, and Perry doesn’t think it’s safe to come back just yet. But she respects the other “tight-knit” downtown restaurants that are open.
“Patio service is the only thing I could feasibly feel comfortable with doing,” she says of a potential reopening.
In the wake of the coronavirus, The Churchill is adapting daily to its constantly changing environment. It has shortened its hours and is currently only open five days per week. This week’s curfew means it has to shut its doors at 7p.m., leaving it open for three hours on weekdays.
Co-owner Kell Duncan isn’t sure it’s worth it, as much of The Churchill’s business happens between the hours of 8 p.m. and midnight. Duncan will be speaking with all 10 of The Churchill’s vendors on Tuesday to determine a way forward this week.
“It takes a lot to get open after being closed for two months,” he says. “To only be open five days and then go right into this is very challenging. It’s very hard to try and provide a consistent experience.”
Still, Duncan says the safety of his employees comes first.
“I have young black men that work for me,” he says. “After seeing what I saw [Sunday] night, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending them home after 8 p.m. I can’t have them leaving and taking the chance of them not getting home.”
It’s already been a difficult few months for Duncan and other small business owners, and now they must grapple with the less-busy summer months and a sparse lunch crowd, thanks to many Phoenicians working from home. He encourages patrons to exercise patience with restaurants and bars as they adapt to each new curveball thrown their way.
“It seems like every day there’s another massive decision we have to try and make to navigate through the unknown,” he says.