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Unknown future for South Bend buffet restaurants

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - The National Restaurant Association reports that out of 6,500 restaurants they surveyed nationwide, there was a net loss of $30 billion just in March and were on track to lose $50 billion in April.

Now April is almost over and restaurants around the country including here in Indiana are still struggling to stay open, while only utilizing pick-up and delivery services.

Tippecanoe Place Restaurant is just one business that has had to close during this pandemic.

All you see if you drive past the old Studebaker building is an empty parking lot. That’s because Tippecanoe closed it’s doors on March 16th and laid off all of its employees.

“It’s a 100% shutdown so you know, the growler business is fine but it doesn’t generate as much revenue as being open,” Kevin Jakel, the General Manager there said.

Easter, Mothers Day, and Thanksgiving are huge days for business for the restaurant.

With the loss of Easter and possibly Mother’s Day, two of their biggest days for business, it is really detrimental to this South Bend staple.

“We do about 1100 people each of those days. So we typically see all 4 floors of the mansion, we have 2 full buffet lines on the middle two floors of the mansion so yeah it’s a big effect,” he said.

Jakel says he just hopes they can reopen soon.

However, reopening is no small feat. Especially for their popular weekly buffet line.

Jakel says they will most likely transition to a menu brunch instead of a buffet brunch since he predicts people will be more comfortable without the buffet option.

There will also be social distancing measures taken.

“We’ll be fortunate when we get to that point of reopening that we’ll have space in the restaurant where people I’ll be able to feel comfortable inside the mansion where they’re not sitting right next to each other,” he said.

Jakel tells ABC57 the pandemic has also had an effect on the supply chain and that many restaurants like Tippecanoe will most likely have fewer items on their menu going forward.

But what will this restaurant look like once it is allowed to reopen?

He says they will follow CDC guidelines when it comes to buffets, such as using sneeze guards, changing out utensils frequently, and having staff serve the food to limit guest handling of the utensils.

There will definitely be a different model of business once Tippecanoe is allowed to reopen.

But how will this affect the buffets?

“The National Restaurant Association and all different food purveyor groups, they’ve been out taking surveys on what people’s comfort, how comfortable they are to go out to eat #1, the buffets are farther down on that list,” he said. “There won’t be any buffets for a while. Thanksgiving might be the first one. Depending on what everyone’s comfort level is by then.”

Although Jakel said they do hope to open up to pick-up and delivery services starting the 15th, it all depends on the Governor’s announcement on Friday.

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