Catering company navigates pandemic

Catering company navigates pandemic
Posted at 2:52 PM, Jul 29, 2020

COLORADO SPRINGS — So many locally owned businesses have had to reinvent what they do to stay afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic and we continue to profile business owners to try and help others as we all work to rebound.

Now we are showing you what a local catering company has had to endure. Almost immediately during shutdown orders, they took massive hits and have had a slow time starting back up because of the rules about large gatherings.

Some catering businesses have sadly closed forever, but one full-service catering company in Colorado Springs said they’re committed to keeping things going for their employees and for the community.

The Picnic Basket has had to make some changes since the pandemic hit southern Colorado.

“We normally have about 30 to 40 full-time employees and about 50 to 80 part-time employees during our high season, which this would normally be. Right now we have about 20 full-time and 20 part-time, and we feel really, really, lucky we have been able to keep many of them as busy as they want to be during this time,” co-owner and director of sales Michelle Talarico said.

After 31 years in business, they were about to have their busiest March on record. Now, Talarico said they’ll be lucky to do about 30 percent of their average business this year alone.

The immediate hit was massive.

“Literally, within a six-hour period maybe, we lost $800,000 to $900,000 in future bookings. It was that quick,” Talarico said.

Since Governor Polis has lifted restrictions on large gatherings they have been able to cater some weddings, memorials and corporate events and say they actually had a busy July.

But after decades of work, the business owners knew they needed to reinvent themselves when the pandemic hit. They decided to offer their old deli menu curbside and even start a food truck. They partnered with other businesses at Ivywild School to set up shop there twice a week.

Delivery department manager Jennifer Chowning is thankful to work for a forward-thinking place, but she, like many others, has suffered struggles.

“I was out of work for 6 weeks. I was unable to get unemployment because of the confusion that’s going on with the labor department,” Chowning said.

She and her husband live paycheck to paycheck and she depleted her savings. She has an appointment with the Labor Department and is hoping to refill her account with backpay.

She urges everyone to be responsible, follow the mask mandate and social distance so we don’t regress.

“I’m here now and I’m getting paid now, but I’m a little nervous. We’re spiking a little in our city and state and I don’t want us to move backward,” Chowning said.

Talarico said government loans, including getting the PPP on the second try, were a big blessing and if things do go backward they have a safety net.

“We also qualified for a Survive and Thrive grant, which was $25,000. I could almost cry,” Talarico said with tears in her eyes, “It will be what saves this company. We’re keeping that as a nest egg, because as soon as PPP money runs out, the events won’t be of the caliber to keep this machine working, until we’re back to some sense of normal.”

Talarico said she feels responsible to not only keep her employees working, but to help the economy keep moving as well.

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