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Facing dining ban, pandemic, a small town restaurant pivots to pizza

Tracy and Matt Godbold, co-owners of The Rusty Nail in Carson City in mid-Michigan's Montcalm county. The Godbold's moved to Michigan from Arizona to take ownership of the restaurant in 2019.
Courtesy of Matt Godbold
Courtesy of Matt Godbold

It’s been a long, hard pandemic for restaurants. Michigan has banned indoor dining at restaurants twice to try and slow the spread of coronavirus -- once at the beginning of the pandemic and again in November. The second ban is still in effect through at least January 15.

With public health restrictions limiting their business for much of the past year, restaurants have struggled to stay open for business. A December study from Top Data and Zenreach indicates spending at restaurants at the end of 2020 declined 11% from January of last year. 

Some restauranteurs, like Matt and Tracy Godbold, owners of The Rusty Nail in Carson City, Michigan, have embraced changes to their business model to survive. Their recent decision to add delivery and expand the Rusty Nail's menu seems to be paying off. 

Matt Godbold shared his story with Michigan Radio:

“We decided to get a pizza oven based on one of our cooks that has experience in the pizza business, and it’s actually accelerated our business quite well and its helping us get through the shut down right now.

"On average we need to do $500 a day gross sales. And we were not making it without the pizza. Since we’ve added the pizza oven and started doing pizzas and delivery, we’ve been able to increase our gross sales anywhere from $800 to $1300 a day.

"It feels nice to know I won’t have to come out of my personal checking and savings account to make another business payment for the month of January like I did the month of December. That feels good. Feels real good.

"What we’ve learned from the first pandemic shutdown, this time we’ve only had to lay off one employee. And all the employees have agreed to work less hours as long as they’re working and they can get compensated whatever they’re not making off of unemployment. Right now we only have actually one person laid off and there’s fifteen people on the payroll still.

"We do temperature checks on our employees, we ask them the four questions, uh, everyday. And so far it’s been pretty good. You know we’ve all agreed how we’re going to do it and they’ve been very receptive. They took a cut in pay, they work less hours, but they’re still willing to come in and help us out every day.

"So my worst f ear is that one of my customers or one of my employees gets covid. And god forbid we have to do a contact tracing for that. That’s why, i know a lot of my customers are old school and they don’t want to put the mask on, same with my employees. I just don’t want someone to get sick and I don’t want to be liable for someone getting covid and god forbid they pass away and they have contact tracing back to the Rusty Nail.

"I say I keep my political beliefs out of my business because there’s just, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings or anybody’s opinion but I believe that these shutdowns are hurting small businesses along the way, and there has to be a better way to do it.

"I believe in our case that we can do it right and we’ve done it right. And I hope that this shutdown ends soon. And I hope that everybody understands how much it hurts when you lose a part of your business, like we have all year."

--  Matt Godbold

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Tyler Scott is the weekend afternoon host at Michigan Radio, though you can often hear him filling in at other times during the week. Tyler started in radio at age 18, as a board operator at WMLM 1520AM in Alma, Michigan, where he later became host of The Morning Show.
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