ST. LOUIS — Three days after reopening, a blow.
Telephone service at Crown Candy Kitchen, the north side institution, was down again. That’s a big problem when government Covid-19 orders have closed your dining room, turning the century-old restaurant and ice cream parlor into a to-go operation. Homemade candy can be ordered from an online store — but not famous lunch items like the “Heart Stopping BLT,” which has landed Crown on national food shows.
The phone mishap occurs every time it rains hard, and the storms were strong the night before, forcing down the lines at St. Louis Avenue and North 14th Street. Owner Andy Karandzieff struggles to get AT&T technicians on site before customers start calling.
“It’s old equipment. They never upgraded the infrastructure down here,” Karandzieff says of Old North, the business’ home since 1913. It has long anchored the neighborhood, an architectural marvel, featuring vertical brick homes built in the late 19th century, but with plenty of blight, the result of many decades of white flight.
It’s just one of many struggles the business has faced during the pandemic. Its very model — booths crammed together, lines of families hoping to share shakes — rocked to its core by a virus response that demands distance.
Even prior to the implementation of local shelter-in-place orders, restaurants were told to close their dining rooms. So Karandzieff and his wife, Sherri, led a to-go operation.
But safety was a concern. “People had no idea what six feet of separation is,” Karandzieff said. Orders totaled just 15% to 20% of a normal day.
Karandzieff decided to lay workers off, allowing them to collect more from unemployment. The curbside operation shut down.
Work continued, though. Easter was approaching, and St. Louisans love Crown’s chocolate rabbits and coconut eggs.
A handful of employees worked a production and shipping operation, which helped boost sales. In one week, Sherri Karandzieff shipped 1,100 packages; 30 or 40 is typical for Easter, as customers tend to buy in person.
The business shut down completely April 10, after the last chocolate pickups. Then the unease set in, as Karandzieff had hours free to process the magnitude of what was happening.
“It had this look of, where are we going?” Karandzieff said. “And when are we going to get to the end of this trip? Not knowing was the worst part.”
A prolific user of social media, Karandzieff shared with his 5,700 followers that despite a “forced vacation,” he was having trouble sleeping in, often getting up prior to 5 a.m., as he would if Crown were operating.
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