As part of a series featuring conversations with local restaurant owners, Slice of Life Pizzeria & Pub owner Ray Worrell spoke with us about his decision to temporarily close all four of his pizzerias because of the coronavirus crisis.
GWBJ: By mid-March, Slice of Life had closed its Porters Neck and downtown locations, and on March 28, it was announced that all locations would be closing March 30 in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It seems that Slice of Life is fairly well set up for take-out, so why not continue with that model?
Worrell: My main concern was for my employees. Things seemed to be getting worse around the country, and after a lot of consideration, I felt this was the best way to protect them. Also, you think of pizza places as mainly take-out and delivery, but we’re different; we have over 100 seats in some of the restaurants and because of that, we’ve never been set up for delivery. It wasn’t a decision I came to easily; it was a very painstaking process of sitting for hours with my CFO and going over all the pros and cons.
GWBJ: As an owner of a local business with multiple locations, how difficult was it to adapt to the changing government restrictions over the past several weeks?
Worrell: It wasn’t too bad for us to go to just take-out; we mostly had to adjust schedules to the limited hours because we went from being open from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., to just doing the bulk of our business between 5 and 8 p.m., so of course that meant cutting down on staff.
GWBJ: Do you support these measures?
Worrell: Yes. If I had to do what the Governor or county officials had to do, I would have done the same. I support them and wish the whole county would have taken these kinds of measures sooner.
GWBJ: How difficult will it be to get all four locations up and running again when the executive orders are lifted?
Worrell: For us it won’t be too bad. Unlike a hurricane where there’s food spoilage and damage, we won’t be dealing with that. We’re taking advantage of this time to clean and make updates and repairs so that we are ready to re-open in the best possible shape. We will likely re-open one location at a time, and are looking at possibly re-opening the Pine Valley location in early May for takeout and delivery. Prior to all of this we had started installing a new on-line ordering system and that should be up and running by then. A lot of my staff have expressed their interest in returning to work as soon as possible so I hope to retain as many of them as possible.
GWBJ: Financially speaking, how much of an impact has the virus had on Slice of Life? Is it possible for all four locations to survive an indefinite closure?
Worrell: When I first sat down I figured I could last at max 4-6 months without any assistance. We’re well capitalized and I have a good relationship with my banks. At the end of March a lease was signed by LifePoint Church, who plan to open a satellite location at the building that I own adjacent to the Porters Neck location, so that will help tremendously.
GWBJ: What, if any, types of financial assistance will the company be seeking?
Worrell: Thankfully I have money saved, but I’ve also applied for some of the loans that are currently available, some of which will help with payroll once we reopen. I’ve also contacted all my service providers such as DirecTV to see where I can save some money on expenses while we’re closed.
GWBJ: As a leader in the business community, do you have any advice for other business owners or the community in general?
Worrell: Try to take care of your employees as best you can and do what's right for your business. Try to mitigate the damage that has been done by helping others. A hurricane comes and goes, and this thing will eventually go too, but no one knows for sure how long it will be and we’re all in this together.
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