This is part five of our Culinary Crisis series about the #EatForCLE campaign, in which we talk to local chef/owners and other food entrepreneurs about the impact of COVID-19 on the local dining industry. #EatForCLE in April launched with the video “All Consumed.” FreshWater has been carrying on the movement started by Jackie Bebenroth.
Here, Anna Harouvis, owner of Anna in the Raw, 1360 E. 9th Street in the IMG Building, tells of the tailspin she was entering at the onset of the coronavirus, and show she pulled herself out to reconnect with her customers and focus on her café family and the future.
When 2020 first started, It was looking like it would be one of the better years in my 25-year career. I was moving through the slow winter months and planning on watching the Masters Tournament and for upcoming sports to be in full swing. I was about to sign a lease for an additional space and was seeing positive growth of Anna in the Raw.
Anna wants to ensure that preparing food and juice is to the highest quality and safety available. I had come off a rough 2019—I was hospitalized in July with internal bleeding and went straight from the ICU into work; buried my mother the day before Thanksgiving; and totaled my car the following Saturday.
But 2020 was looking great—until I got the news in March that we had to close because of COVID-19. I felt like I was just hit with a ton of bricks.
My first concern was doing what was best for the community. And, I admit, I enjoyed having some much-needed free time. It was the first time I could actually sit and breathe, and boy did it feel good.
March became about finally getting to my to-do list at my condo, cleaning out my mother’s condo, and organizing my life. I was positive and hopeful.
Then April came and I was depressed, scared, and barely able to get out of bed. Maybe the events of the past seven months had finally caught up with me.
I realized that as much as I said I wanted time off, I truly didn't.
Running a restaurant is not just a job. Those in the restaurant industry could all work less and earn more in any number of careers.
But Anna in the Raw was my purpose—the purpose that brought joy in my life. I missed and craved the structure. People depend on me and my customers have become my family and friends.
My customers’ families became my extended family through the Easter baskets I create for them, the cakes they buy for their spouses’ birthdays, or the fact that I remember that someone’s little girl loves unicorns.
I miss my extended family. I miss the passion and the purpose my career gave me and I long for the times when long conversations with customers kept me later at work.
I found I was lost. I needed to be part of my community. I discovered that donating to local charities gave me more satisfaction than good press or income—it gave me a purpose to get out of bed every day.
Anna took Serve-safe Covid training and installed plexi glass protection by the register and for tables. I missed seeing my customers’ faces—the jokes, the smiles, and the hugs that filled my days. I was an awkward child and I never could quite express myself. But through my work, I can openly love and care without fear of rejection. I love showing people support through food. I run my little cafe like a Greek kitchen—there are always free samples, an empty plate waiting in case company drops by, and open arms.
The side of small business most people don't know is we end up spending more time with our clients and their families than our own families. I still am worried and concerned that some of my favorite customers who I’ve missed so much will be laid off and not return. I worry that I couldn't be there and listen to their problems. Or, that I didn’t have them to guide me through my own problems.
We aren't chains or franchises. We are your friends, your extended family. We remember your birthday, your child's milestones. We rejoice in your successes and are there for you during your hard times.
That’s the real deal of our industry—we spend our lives and strain our bodies not just to feed your bellies, but also to feed your souls and hearts. Small business owners create bonds with their communities.
I realized recently I needed my purpose back. With that customer bond in mind, I switched my business model and began in April to offer carry-out and delivery. I took steps to sanitize everything.
For the past two months I have been rearranging my cafe to meet social distancing and safety protocols. I took ServSafe COVID-19 training and installed plexiglass protection by the register and for tables.
I only have four tables but wanted to make sure it was the safest environment for my clients. I also purchased hand sanitizer, masks for anyone who comes into the building, and I even purchased individual to-go hand sanitizer for customers to take with them.
I developed online ordering and delivery for those who still want or need to remain at home. I'm currently working on an affordable meal prep program so everyone can stay healthy and happy during these troubling times.
I have no plans of changing my commitment to the city and community.
These are scary times for most of us—we have never experienced this during our lives. I don't judge people who chose to not eat out or leave their homes but look forward to being able to better serve them during this time.
I'm happy to open the café and go into work every day—even if I only get four clients. I'm so grateful they trust me, depend on me, and allow me to love them the way I know how.
I can't wait to see my customers come in again and hug them—even if it’s only with my eyes.
I put a sign up that says, “Welcome Back.” During these scary hard times I'm excited to give them back a bit of their routines, a lot of love, and the best food I can provide.
This may not be my best year financially, but, hopefully, this coming October, which marks 25 years in business downtown, won't be my last.
I can say with all honestly that it has been my best year in many other ways. It brought me back home to my true self and reminded me of the reasons for doing this crazy thing so many years ago.
I welcome everyone back to my little corner of downtown, which I think of as the heart of the city. It beats loud and clear and says we may not know what comes but we will survive together and that what Cleveland is about.