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‘Something new every day’: Lincoln restaurants prepare for Thanksgiving during COVID
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‘Something new every day’: Lincoln restaurants prepare for Thanksgiving during COVID

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Billy Restaurant, 11.25

Alex Andrade of Billy's Restaurant works swiftly to add items to their to-go Thanksgiving meals on Wednesday.

What usually is a season full of gatherings, shared meals and booming business for Lincoln restaurants is instead an uncertain few weeks with improvised ways to put food on the table.

With Thanksgiving in mind and the possibility of quite a few people cautiously opting out of gathering with family, some restaurateurs spent days whipping up Turkey Day meals for pickup.

Billy’s, which has been in business since 1986, has seen a definite slump in dine-in business, though regulars and customers who order take-out are helping keep it afloat.

With take-out taking over his business, owner Nader Farahbod and his staff have remade some aspects of their menu, pushing chicken dishes and menu items using plentiful ingredients.

Whereas before Billy’s was dishing out lamb racks and $70 bottles of wine, now Farahbod said they’re offering meals that round up to about $25. But there isn’t a change in quality.

“The food is more common but still delicious, and people seem to like them,” Farahbod said Tuesday. “Our loyal customers are really a big help.”

For Thanksgiving, Farahbod and his so-called "skeleton crew" have been prepping multiple turkeys, vegetables for sides and decadent pumpkin cheesecake take-out plates.

In a normal year, Billy’s would seat and serve about 125 people on Thanksgiving at its restaurant at 1301 H St. This year, they have 200 reserved slots for picking up food, adding up to 800 dishes.

In a way, Farahbod said, business is better.

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“Before on busy days like game days, the Railyard would be packed and managers would have to keep staff on all the time because they didn’t know if people would come in or not.”

Now it ends up being more cost effective. For Farahbod, it’s only a “nominal percentage of a difference," but for Cappy’s, they’ve been “way down on expenses."

And it makes all the difference.

“We’ve got through this pretty well,” said John "Cappy" Caporale, general manager of the bar and restaurant at 5560 S. 48th St. “We actually sold out of the Thanksgiving package deal we set up way before the ordering deadline.”

The meal includes homemade turkey, mashed potatoes, vegetables and rolls, Caporale said. Cappy's did the same thing for Easter and is expecting to do it again for Christmas in a few weeks.

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Though everything is going well, Caporale wants things back to normal.

“I wish people would just follow the rules so it goes faster,” he said. “Some people don’t like to hear it, and saying that gets negative attention, but it’s just what has to happen.”

For places like Venue, which has a strong catering business, the cancellations of multiple parties and events was crippling to the business, but Assistant General Manager Emerson Trupp said the restaurant has been able to grow in other ways.

“We went from 12 to-go orders a week to a dozen every day overnight,” he said, adding that the number of pick-up orders continues to rise. “Our regular guests that order every couple of days are the difference. We have a devoted following.”

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Trupp said they’ve also been able to set up a weekly meal subscription plan and work on elements of the business they were meaning to get around to.

But that growth didn’t come without sacrifice.

“We’ve lost a lot of great people because of health issues, moving away,” Trupp said. “The unknown is the scariest part.”

Venue, at 70th Street and Pioneers Boulevard, will host its annual Thanksgiving buffet, as it does for all holidays. Trupp said they’ll abide by new restrictions, which went into effect on Wednesday, and still serve customers.

The city's new directed health measure forces bars to take-out alcohol sales only and closes dining rooms at 9 p.m.

“We’re constantly trying to think outside of the box,” he said. “Small businesses need help, but we’ll get through this one way or another.”

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Photos: Lincoln during the pandemic

Reach the writer at 402-473-7214 or sali@journalstar.com

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News intern

Sadiyah AIi is a Portland, Oregon native and senior at University of Nebraska-Lincoln studying journalism and political science.

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