These are difficult times.
However, difficult times often bring out the best in people.
At first, when you start walking down Main Street here in Belgrade, you see a lot of businesses like this: lights off, large signs at the front reading ‘Sorry We’re Closed’ or something along the lines of ‘Due To The Virus.’
But here at Center Ice Cafe, while the lights are off, they’re finding ways to help people.
“This has slowed down many many businesses,” says Rhonda Gilbert, co-owner of Center Ice Cafe and Bubby’s Cuppa Joe.
It’s an image that is becoming the norm in Belgrade: darkened "Open" signs and dark diner windows.
“Our last day was almost a 90-percent drop in business before the closure,” says Brant Gilbert, Rhonda’s husband and co-owner of Center Ice Cafe. “The cafe was 75 to 85 percent of our income.”
For Brant and Rhonda, to have close Center Ice Cafe and Bubby’s to a limited capacity hurts.
“We were apologizing to our customers on the last day before the actual closure because the bleach smell, because we were not only cleaning tables, then we were re-bleaching each and every table,” Brant says.
If you read their sign, you can see the Gilbert’s weren’t about to be stopped.
Carry out; customers could order their food and then pick it up from outside.
“Rather than the walk up, you can come in in a very limited number, spend a minute to make an order and then step out until the order is ready for folks, we’re actually saying look, let’s take it the next step. Call ahead. Order it. We will bring it out.”
It’s a move Brant and Rhonda say other businesses downtown are also adopting, more to help than to stay afloat.
...Something Brant hopes was a helpful first step to their customers.
“Our clientele is predominantly in the age group that is most susceptible to the virus, so we have spent, like everyone in the business, tons of time cleaning,” Brant says. “The numbers for a place that is sit-down across the Valley have just plummeted to almost no business and everybody’s scrambling to just do the services that they can.”
Their second step can be found just up the road.
Bubby’s Cuppa Joe, now temporarily dubbed Bubby’s Burger Barn, is coming to life just over two weeks after it opened.
“Because this has drive-thru and that is completely walk-in or order in, we’ve seen a complete flip,” Brant says.
And while the Gilberts have lost thousands, the windows and doors here are still open -- and lit up.
Just like Rhonda’s attitude.
“Tell me you can’t be feeling better when you get yourself a milkshake or cheeseburger,” Rhonda says. “Being able to provide a delicious hot, yummy meal to someone who is having a stressful day like we are makes it all amazing.”
And the roadside business is taking safety steps of its own.
“We’re doing what we can,” Rhonda says. “Sanitizer, cleaning surfaces nonstop, super important. The one problem with that is we are having a problem finding those products.”
“It makes you so proud,” Brant says. “Belgrade has struggled with some identity issues just because of proximity to Bozeman and the growth rate there but everybody here talks about the exact same things. This is home. This is where they want to do the most things.”
Brant says while their business is open for you, precaution for health is much more important.
“My business cannot be your priority,” Brant says. “We appreciate it. We love you for it. Take care of yourself because once this is over, we want to see everyone of you again.”