OMAHA, Neb. — Restaurants and bars were some of the first places to close in the state to try to get a handle on the pandemic. Now, a year after COVID was identified in Nebraska, many restaurants have reopened, but experts said the financial impact could be felt for years to come.
La Casa in Omaha has been serving homemade pizzas and other traditional Italian dishes for almost 70 years.
"The core hasn't changed, our sauces haven't changed," co-owner and general manager Nicole Jesse said.
However, what did change in 2020 was the traditional restaurant experience.
"We had to change how we did some of our core business," Jesse said.
COVID-19 put a stop to one of the largest industries in Nebraska in March of last year.
"Everybody went into overdrive of, 'How do we solve this problem, how do we deal with this?' We can't fix COVID but how are we going to survive," said Nebraska Restaurant Association executive director Zoe Olson.
Survival came in the form of carry-out.
"During the dining room closure across the United States, Nebraska ranked second in carry-out," Olson said.
Carry-out is what helped restaurants like La Casa, which previously focused most of its business on dine-in, stay in business.
"I was grateful that we were still able to fare and weather this much better than unfortunately...a lot of people," Jesse said.
Many restaurants had to close their doors. In fact, according to a survey that the Nebraska Restaurant Association conducted in December of last year, 35% of respondents expected to be permanently out of business within the next six months.
"We're going to lose some of our favorite restaurants. We just are and that's hard, because once they're gone, they're gone," Olson said.
Grants and federal aid have helped the industry as well as creative changes by the restaurants themselves. Changes that could make the industry even better in the future.
"I have to think that all the lessons learned by our businesses over the past year will only make us stronger," said Greater Omaha Chamber president and CEO David Brown.