Despite pandemic obstacles, restaurant still on track for success
The RailYard was not going to let a global pandemic derail it. After all, the Bluefield restaurant, cocktail lounge, and live music venue was part of a community of people and other small businesses all pulling together.
Preservation and perseverance
Starting around 2012, the nonprofit Bluefield Preservation Society tackled a series of long-term restoration and renovation projects in Bluefield’s historic downtown. The efforts included replacing lamp posts, renovating the 1928 Granada Theatre (which celebrated its grand debut Aug. 28, 2021) and developing the Blue Spoon Café as a business incubator in 2015.
The Bluefield Preservation Society also created the Depot District, where the RailYard opened in 2014.
Owner Tom Cole opened The RailYard in his hometown of Bluefield to serve as a magnet to draw more people into the area. It provided a place to gather with friends for a drink, a dinner and an evening of live music.
Coping with a global pandemic
Emma Bailey joined The RailYard as a server in 2018 and became general manager in 2019. The venue focused on enhancing its food menu with inventive burgers and other fare.
Meanwhile, a novel coronavirus that started halfway around the world had spread to multiple countries. By January 2020, the first cases were identified in the U.S. By March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus COVID-19 a world pandemic.
Across the country, states including West Virginia mandated public safety measures. Businesses and other places where people gather had to restrict their hours or close altogether.
The COVID-19 pandemic shook practically all economic sectors, including hospitality businesses such as restaurants. Like a lot of businesses, The RailYard had to close its doors to the public.
“What hurt us most was not being able to use the Clover Club because there were no parties. Thankfully, we were able to grow our to-go business by offering curbside and delivery,” Bailey said. “This helped us when we reopened. We gained those guests who tried us when everyone was closed.”
When allowed to admit the public once again, restaurants had additional changes to which to adapt. At the RailYard, adjustments included:
- Increased vigilance on sanitation
- Staff masked at all times
- Glass barriers between each booth to help with social distancing
Reopening brought additional challenges.
“Staffing is a big issue for the entire industry,” Bailey said. “Finding people who are available to work has not been easy. We have been very fortunate with our staff of 27. Another big issue has been shortages on just about any product you can imagine. At one point we couldn’t get jalapenos. A shortage of jalapenos!”
Neighbor helping neighbor in local business community
The business community in Bluefield rallied to help one another.
“A lot of the business owners/managers are in a group together where we help each other out in different aspects of our businesses,” said Bailey. “We have received vegetables and herbs from the garden of Bakers Hill Inn Bed & Breakfast. The Vault Downtown (a fine dining and cigar lounge) will spare a pack of napkins when we run out on a busy Saturday evening. The Blue Spoon Café will send pastries left over after Friday lunch for our staff. All of the businesses want to see each other grow and succeed.”
The RailYard does its part to keep local talents on tap.
“The focal point of our bar is our 30 rotating tapped beers,” she said. “Almost half of those beers are locally crafted right in West Virginia from our favorite breweries, such as
Sophisticated Hound, Weathered Ground and High Ground Brewing.”
Come In, We’re Open campaign
The West Virginia Small Business Development Center (WV SBDC) created a campaign called the “Come In, We’re Open” (#WeAreOpenWV) to help entrepreneurs spread awareness that they are still here and ready to do business.
Bailey heard about the “Come In, We’re Open” campaign from Blue Spoon Café owner Nicole Coeburn, who is a WV SBDC client. The Blue Spoon Café Facebook page includes an image of Coeburn holding a WV SBDC “Come In, We’re Open” sign.
“We joined the campaign because we want everyone to see what great small businesses there are in West Virginia and why it is so important to choose us over a chain business,” Bailey said. “We also wanted to shine a little light on all small businesses after the tough year we have gone through.”
Bailey’ plans for The RailYard to be a growing contributor to Bluefield’s business community.
“Our goal is to help grow our downtown area in Bluefield,” she said. “There is so much potential here to grow and we are proud to be a part of that growth.”
Small business owners can also get involved with the “Come In, We’re Open” campaign by visiting wvsbdc.com/weareopenwv