Woofs hangs tough through 40 percent drop in sales

The owner of Woofs is worried that the recent spike in coronavirus cases will cause the state to shut down businesses for the second time in four months, but he and his employees are hanging tough.

“If these numbers keep spiking, first they’ll close bars, then restaurants, and we’ll have to go back to takeout or be shut down for a while,” Woofs owner Gregory Hughes (photo right) told Project Q Atlanta.

“We’re trying to plan for it and survive it, but there is a big concern that we’re not going in the right direction and the state may step in and start mandating closures," he added.

Woofs was one of the first LGBTQ-owned restaurants to offer takeout service when Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms banned in-person dining in March. The ban was lifted in late April, and Woofs restarted dine-in service in May with a number of safety precautions.

“We check everyone’s temperature that comes in the door. We sanitize every area once a party is done. We have a bunch of hand sanitizer around the restaurant,” Hughes said. “We are functioning much more as a restaurant versus a bar. We’re asking people to not wander around. We have reduced the number of seating areas in our bar, and we’ve spaced out tables too.”

Employees wear masks, and customers were encouraged to wear masks even before Bottoms issued a citywide mask mandate on Wednesday. Customers and employees both have reacted positively to the precautions, Hughes said.

“I told my employees that I want them to be careful even when they’re not working, because if an employee ends up positive, that affects 30 other people,” he said. “They realize it’s not just them that it affects if we have to shut down. They’ve really stepped up in a very great way. I’m very proud of them for doing that.”

Business increased when dine-in service restarted, but Hughes said sales are still down 30 to 40 percent from pre-pandemic receipts. Sales numbers changed for the worse yet again more recently.

“We’ve noticed a downward trend over the last two or three weeks,” he said. “We’re attributing that to the number of COVID cases going up and more and more customers are saying they’ll stay home.”

Woofs received an Economic Injury Disaster Loan and a Payroll Protection Program loan from the federal Small Business Administration. That’s allowed them to keep nearly all of their employees, Hughes said.

“Nobody’s back to their full hours though,” he said. “We cut back the number of hours that we’re open. So they’re still not working the number of hours they were working prior to COVID.”

DJ Mister Richard held a weekly virtual fundraiser for Woofs employees through June. The venue moved from its longtime Piedmont Road home to a new facility on Plasters Avenue in June 2019

This story is made possible through a grant from Facebook Journalism Project's COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund.

Photo by Patrick Saunders