Owner Kevin Brown, at The Fridge in Lancaster Friday March 5, 2021.

We talked to 12 food industry professionals from Lancaster County about living and working in a pandemic, and how the past year has affected them both professionally and personally.

From chefs and restaurateurs to farmers and bakers, here are their stories, in their own words.

Meet Kevin Brown, co-owner of The Fridge.

Shortly after we moved from Seattle, a new colleague of my husband recommended that we check out The Fridge, a combo bottle shop, bar and pizza joint just walking distance from our new home that reminded us of our favorite haunts on the other side of the country. This year marks The Fridge’s 10th anniversary.

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Pre-pandemic, we were a very high-volume, casual pizza place, craft beer bar and also a retail craft beer bottle shop. It’s a hybrid; you could eat and drink here like it was a bar and restaurant, or you could order everything to go. We’re a very small square footage local place, so it always felt busy, packed and full.

Collectively, as owners, the management team and our employees, we all had the same philosophy, that we wanted to be as safe and responsible as possible. The safety of our staff and customers was absolutely our number one priority, and following CDC guidelines to a T. It was non-negotiable. We immediately shut down for six weeks. During that time, we figured out how to budget through the next phase and plan a safe, responsible and modified reopening when the time came. With key staff, we came up with a plan not to have any indoor dining whatsoever. The way our space is configured, it would have been difficult to control capacity with indoor dining. We worked with the city of Lancaster on our ideas about outdoor seating. We came up with a plan to use the sidewalk. Then we started doing cocktails and beer to go. With reduced hours and staff, we were able to limp along.

As we looked toward the fall, we came up with a plan with the city and our landlord to use the adjacent garage as an outdoor space, plus a heated tent. Between the tent and the garage and the sidewalk, we ended up with far more seating than we ever had pre-pandemic. We spent a lot of money on the tent — it was a fortune — but it’s paying for itself. And the garage has been a hit. With a woodburning stove, we’ve replicated the cozy inside feeling everyone loves out here. We still do a ton of to-go food. Bottom line, the tent, garage, sidewalk are what we feel is safe, viable for customers and our staff. We got every PPP loan and grant we applied for. That’s been great because we have a cushion, and who knows when the end is in sight. Even with 50% indoor dining, for us, it would translate to three tables, just not worth it.

I mention the word inspiring when I think of the past year because, number one, our customers have been so unbelievably generous and supportive and understanding. All the stress we’ve been through has been recognized by our customers. It inspires us to keep going and makes us feel good for what we have had to go through, all the stress and the fear. Two, to see how our employees have risen to the challenge, putting their own health at risk by working in a restaurant, running food outside when it’s freezing cold, wearing a mask every minute they are here, sanitizing their hands every second, doing their job, not complaining and coming up with really good ideas for us as owners. It’s brought out the best in people rather than the worst.

When I’m at home, I’m also trying to be as cautious and responsible as I can, so I am very limited on my own time. So I’ve hunkered down and become a bit of a hermit, by limiting my activities and learning to do a lot of things alone and outside. For the past 40 years, I have been working out at the gym four times a week. Fitness has been a lifelong passion and addiction. For the first time in my life, I gave it up. It probably has been my greatest personal sacrifice because it’s also a stress reliever. I pivot and try to work out at home and outside, but that only gets you so far. I’m looking forward to a return to normalcy, having that sense of relief, safety and security.

2020, in three words: Terrifying, challenging, inspiring.

Editor’s note: These interviews were conducted both by phone and by email and have been edited for length and clarity. All subjects were asked the same four questions. Italics indicate notes by Kim O’Donnel.

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