The rapid spread of COVID-19 has caused a lot of significant changes in the way people across the country are trying to live their everyday life.
The things that were once routine, such as going to the grocery store, going for a morning coffee, or simply going to work have been thrown for a loop.
For restaurant owners, that change has also been a significant one.
For some, they are trying to stay afloat by pivoting to other options such as offering delivery and to-go options. Others couldn’t afford such a luxury, instead choosing to close for the time being.
Mark Huston, his wife Margaret and daughter Jane elected to go with the latter, closing their restaurant, Jane.
“It’s heart wrenching when you have to close down,” Mr. Huston said.
“You have to let all of our staff go and food starts going bad so we tried donating what we could to the Foodbank but some you have to throw away.
“In the beginning we thought it was just going to be a very short period of time. Now we’re kind of in it for a few more months, I guess.”
For 30 years, the Huston’s operated the Montecito Cafe until it closed its doors in 2016. Now, they operate Jane Restaurant, which has locations in downtown Santa Barbara and in Goleta.
The first Jane Restaurant opened its doors in 2009, right in the heart of the theater art district in downtown at 1311 State St., where it still resides today.
“It’s great. It’s definitely hard work, this is a tough business, but we are doing okay, we have done it for a long time, practically my whole life,” Mr. Huston said.
Without a doubt, Mr. Huston said the hardest part of closing was having to lay off his entire staff. To help ease the burden, Mr. Huston held a small Farmer’s Market and gave his staff as much food as he could give away.
Since then, Mr. Huston still checks up on his staff and tries to continue helping, giving away dried goods and simple necessities like rice and beans.
Still, even as he tries to help, Mr. Huston admits this is a very tough time.
“We are worried. We apply for the loans and try to keep up with everything and it’s tough but we are just trying to take it one day at a time,” Mr. Huston said.
With all this weighing on his mind, it would have been easy for Mr. Huston to solely focus on the restaurant. And yet, every Friday, Mr. Huston is instead still taking time out of his day to drive meals to the elderly and sick in Santa Barbara.
For the 61 year old, volunteering for Meals on Wheels has been a staple in his life for almost three decades and he shows no signs of slowing that down..
“I started driving for Meals on Wheels in the late 90s. I started with driving my uncle, because he had Alzheimer’s so he couldn’t drive himself anymore so I drove with him,” Mr. Huston recalled.
“And I have done it on my own for about the past 20 years since he has passed away.”
Still, with so much to worry about, it would have been easy for Mr. Huston to put his driving route for Meals on Wheels aside for the time being.
That, however, never even approached his mind.
“No, no, no,” Mr. Huston said after being asked if he thought about stopping his driving for a bit.
“I love it and the people are great.”
After “falling into” this opportunity, Mr. Huston has truly come to appreciate the support he lends and receives from the work he does.
“It’s great and you feel like you’re giving back but really they are giving to you,” Mr. Huston said.
“I have heard countless stories from so many people through the years, WWII vets, missionaries, so many people and you just get to listen to their stories and they end up blessing me instead of the other way around.
“I think I am doing a good deed, but really we encourage each other.”
In the past few weeks, in order to ensure food is delivered in the safest way possible, Santa Barbara Meals on Wheels drivers have been leaving the food on the step, unable to interact with those they lend a hand too.
Some people, however, still come up to the front, even if it’s just to share a simple hello through a screen door as Mr. Huston gets back in his truck to continue on with his route.
Turning 62 next month himself, Mr. Huston has also taken many precautions to ensure he or his wife do not fall ill to the coronavirus, the number one being that they self-isolate, except of course when he’s driving his route.
“We should always be giving back to our community and helping each other out,” Mr. Huston said.
“It’s always important, especially with more people in need now so more people are stepping up.”
Aside from wanting to continue his route, Mr. Huston also hopes to stay healthy to see the reopening of Jane Restaurant.
“If we are sick we can’t reopen, so we are just trying to stay healthy. And Santa Barbara is not a bad place to be quarantined, so we are doing okay,” Mr. Huston said with a laugh.
As more and more local eateries are stepping into the delivery game, Mr. and Mrs. Huston hope to enter the same market.
Mr. Huston said that right now they are seeking the guidance necessary to try to see if they can become a delivery spot.
While there are some nerves, Mr. Huston said he has received numerous calls from customers, hoping that they could eat the delicious food found at Jane once again.
Of course, another positive of reopening would be the fact that Mr. Huston would rehire all the employees that were laid off — something he very much is looking forward to.
“We are anxious to get back,” Mr. Huston said.
“We pray every day for a cure so that we can all relax and get back to work.”