The restaurant industry has been hit especially hard throughout 2020. Many restaurants cannot re-open due to COVID-19 precautions, and many patrons do not go to those that are open in an effort to reduce risk in the community. Since the first lockdown in March, the food service industry has lost $165 billion in revenue and is likely to end the year having lost $240 billion. Additionally, customer spending in restaurants has been down 34 percent so far this year.
Kansas City has experienced the effects of these losses as countless, especially local, restaurants continue to shut down because of the insurmountable disruptions COVID-19 imposed on the industry. This article is the second in a series exploring the effect of COVID-19 losses on individual restaurants in Kansas City.
Gigi’s Vegan + Wellness Cafe
Gigi’s Vegan + Wellness Cafe opened July 16 – just a short time after the lockdown ended in Kansas City – and is already being lauded as one of the best vegan spots in town. Run by Gigi Jones with the help of her family (her son is often at the restaurant with her), the cafe serves a full vegan menu, fresh cold-pressed juices and three different flavors of kale chips. Jones has also dedicated an entire section of the cafe to low-waste and wellness goods, as well as supplements.
Operating a restaurant during COVID-19 is extremely difficult in its own right, and opening one in the middle of a pandemic seems even more daunting. For Jones (affectionately known as Gigi the Vegan), the difficulties didn’t deter her. All that mattered was offering fresh and healthy food to people in the Kansas City area.
“We’ve been working on the space for roughly about a year and, right when we were opening, Kansas City shut down. We had invested so much time and effort into the space — and we knew what we were creating was all about health and wellness for the community, you know, good healthy food – all plant-based. Our decision was solely based upon [the fact that] people are actually looking to change their diet. They’re looking for a healthier alternative because of the pandemic,” Jones said. “For us, it was a no brainer, we had to do it and we had to do it because people were sick… So we just decided we had to do it in spite of what could possibly happen – a shut down again – in spite of not being able to make those numbers or our monthly goals, but we’re definitely here to serve the community.”
The faith that Jones has in her business – and her unadulterated desire to serve a community healthy food and supplements – shines through all of her interactions. Her mission to bring health to the Kansas City community naturally extended to keeping her business and customers safe during COVID-19.
“We really focus on the safety of our community and the safety of ourselves and my employees. That’s a big concern for me – that’s a big deal. We clean thoroughly and deliver curbside with gloves on. We offer outdoor seating and [everything is] wiped down frequently. We follow the procedure: six feet apart and everything is wiped clean. So, we try to do our part in keeping everyone safe. But we also want to help keep people well and we do that by serving plant
The outdoor patio seating at Gigi’s, which has become a sort of staple to the cafe, has an especially sentimental meaning to Jones.
“When we opened we didn’t have a patio whatsoever… My birthday was July 16 and my son surprised me and built a patio outside. He built a patio for me – he said ‘Mom, I think this will be
The patio also serves as the safest place to eat during the pandemic. And while Jones admits that seating and serving will be harder during the winter months when it’s too cold for the patio, she’s already thought of a creative solution.
“Now we’re doing delivery services – like Uber eats and so on and so forth. So that our customers will feel safe as well [when they don’t] want to come out when it’s cold – we’ll be a part of a delivery service. And then that way, too, we’ll have longer hours because we’ll be able to serve them,” said Jones.
While this solution will ensure her business can stay open with the colder months approaching and sustained COVID-19 restrictions, Jones admits that it is especially hard to be a restaurant owner right now. But she recognizes the integral part that restaurants play in Kansas City’s culture and is not willing to let that go.
“Of course, I believe that [COVID-19] has hurt the restaurant industry a lot, but at the same time people are still staying in business because they want to be able to serve our community as much as possible, and I think that once this thing is over, all is going to be well again,” said Jones. “If we all just sat down, then what’s going to happen? So we have to keep going.”
Above all, Jones has seen an outpouring of support for her new business – giving her hope for its longevity and success even in the face of a pandemic.
“I was shocked, I went online last night — someone called me and said, ‘Gigi, have you seen the reviews?’ I went online and I saw [them], I couldn’t believe it. All five stars — one person said, ‘If I could give Gigi’s wellness cafe six stars we would.’ I was blown away by that,” said Jones. “We get new customers all the time, and we’re also experiencing customers returning.”
The success of Gigi’s Vegan + Wellness Cafe is a heartfelt and encouraging example during a pandemic that has been responsible for the closure of countless local restaurants. However, lasting success is not guaranteed, and local restaurants need our constant and deliberate support. Jones created an oasis of healthy food and goods in Westport for the good of the community – now it’s time we fight to keep it around.