Local restaurant owner discusses business changes during COVID-19 pandemic


Elle Love 

Photo courtesy of Omaha United Youth.

I used to remember a time where “Takeout Tuesdays” were only a thing for social media influencers to showcase their delicious food for audiences to savor with their eyes.

It became prominent again on March 30, when Gov. Pete Ricketts declared every Tuesday in April as “Take Out Tuesday” to support the food service industry and maintain social distancing.

“Everybody in the restaurant industry is having a tough time right now and your ability to go out there and support these local restaurants means all the difference in the world to the people who own these restaurants and people who work at these restaurants,” Ricketts said in a briefing.

Although dine-in areas are closed due to large gathering restrictions, that doesn’t stop the convenience of takeout and food delivery. When customers don’t respect policies in place during working hours, however, it can potentially hurt local businesses and restaurants that are trying to make it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lawayne Nockai, owner of Wayne’s New Skoo BBQ, has continued carryout and drive-thru operations for his business, taking orders and preparing them himself. He said the hard part about enforcing restrictions to respect social distancing is having customers who don’t take these policies into consideration.

“We’ll get customers who’ll dine in and take the chairs down,” Nockai said. “You can’t do that because maybe you may not be sick, but you don’t know what the customer who came in before you or behind you could have.”

Nockai said once customers place their order by phone, they must remain outside until he brings their order through the drive-thru window because of the limited space in the dine-in area.

Nockai has owned Wayne’s New Skoo BBQ for six years. It started out as a food truck business before he opened the current location in July 2018 at 50th and Center Sts. He said that the timing of COVID-19 has slowed down the catering side of his business, but the restrictions haven’t completely changed how he operates.

“We’ve been pretty lucky in business the last couple of weeks with companies having their employees work around the clock. As a kind of incentive, they buy out lunches from our company to feed everyone,” Nockai said.

Nockai has taken a portion of sale proceeds to provide free meals to kids every Friday from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. The meal includes a smoked, pulled chicken sandwich and chips.

“At first, I did it as a way to throw out some help to families in my community but when I gave all of the food away, I had people come inside and donate money to support my business and to continue holding another giveaway next week,” Nockai said.

Nockai encourages consumers to look at the menu online before ordering, as to avoid slowing down services.

“It’s just to avoid contact with other customers while we bring food safely to your vehicle,” Nockai said.

Nockai said patience with food service workers is also the best way to support businesses during the quarantine period.

“Sometimes orders may back up which can slow down operations, but we trying to provide the best service we can during these times,” Nockai said.

With restaurant owners and employees like Nockai who put their health on the line to continue providing food for customers, it’s important for consumers like us to respect the restrictions put in place during social distancing.