Indoor dining in New Jersey is finally back, to a degree, and depending on who you are this can mean different things. For restaurant patrons, it’s a long-awaited step toward normalcy. We can finally sit down at a restaurant with our family and friends. Maybe we can even forget about how different life is right now. A glimpse of regularity reinforces the hope that we are almost back to the world we once knew. We all know the stages and timelines that restaurants and other businesses have adhered to in the journey toward full operation. But, not everyone knows the immense responsibility atop the helm of a promising Jersey City restaurant during a pandemic.
Recently, I spoke with Mona Panjwani, owner of Lokal Eatery & Bar in Jersey City. I learned a little more about the experiences on the other side of the counter. Lokal is an exciting new addition to Jersey City’s restaurant resume, and specializes in upscale casual dining. Panjwani took the opportunity to breathe new life into a location that was previously home to Taphaus Biergarten. In doing so, she created a unique and memorable dining experience. Lokal is brimming with an artistic aesthetic complimented by a stunning waterfront view.
This Jersey City gem operates with the mentality of highlighting modern American favorites by infusing culturally diverse flavors. All with locally sourced ingredients! From community to countertop, Lokal’s dedication to using the freshest ingredients for food and drinks results in a new twist on familiar palatable pleasure.
Being deprived of the social interactions we are accustomed to is a daunting hurdle to overcome. Some of the American workforce has been lucky enough to have the opportunity to work from home. Restaurants were not as lucky. The last few months have shown the importance of a compassionate owner in unprecedented times.
Lokal is an exciting Jersey City restaurant coming to fruition. So, worrying primarily about growth and their bottom line would be expected. Lokal doesn’t have that type of leader. I asked Panjwani if she feared for the future of her business, yet her response focused on her employees. “I was worried for the business and employees, but we were in constant communication throughout,” explained Panjwani. “This helped quite a bit. I was always honest with the team and did mention that although I might not have all the answers to their questions, we will go with the flow and figure them out.”
Lokal During the Restaurant Shutdown
Staying vigilant during the early stages of the pandemic allowed Panjwani to create a safe environment. For both patrons and employees alike. Panjawani shares:
“Right before the shutdown, we already had started taking small precautionary measures like frequently sanitizing tables and stations and having the staff wear gloves. In addition, the team was given the option of staying home if they did not feel comfortable coming in. This made the staff feel a bit comfortable and finally, when we made the decision to shut down there was a collective feeling of relief that this was the right thing to do given the circumstances.”
To stay productive during the shutdown, Panjwani did everything she could to stay connected with her employees. She also proactively took the necessary steps to educate herself in ways to adjust to the new normal. “I had reset my expectations to tread slowly and see how things evolve. Attending webinars across various platforms helped a great deal as well in setting new expectations of the changes to come in the hospitality industry.”
Prioritizing Safety and Mental Health
Panjwani wasn’t only preparing for the return of customers. She also believed taking care of her staff was critical:
“I was sensitive to offering a need-based support where we provided financial support to the extent we could to those that needed it the most. I also am a strong believer in hearing ideas from the team, and I have always been open to learning from my team on how we can address the needs of the situation with the utmost care. This helps them feel empowered and engaged.”
Far too often we forget about, or ignore, what goes on behind the curtain. Instead, we tend to only care about instant gratification and convenience, but that is not always a conscious decision. People let their frustrations with the bevy of mandated limitations get the best of them. Some forget that we are all in this together. Panjwani found solace in the idea that she and her employees were not alone, “One powerful thought I took great comfort in and told myself repeatedly was that ‘we are all in this together,’ and we will get out of it slowly.”
Being upset that you couldn’t celebrate an anniversary or birthday by eating out is understandable. Meanwhile, the owner of that restaurant may be up at night worrying if their business will even survive. Unfortunately, restaurants had their hands tied.
I was curious as to how Panjwani handled her own mental health during the mandated shutdown. Especially considering she spent so much time focusing on easing the anxiety of her employees. I was pleased to learn of her own strength, “Emotionally I was strong and I knew we had no choice but to go with the flow and although I questioned my decision several times in my head, I later felt good to have proactively made a decision that kept safety as our priority.”
On Welcoming Back Jersey City
Mona Panjwani exemplified the right way for a Jersey City restaurant owner to operate, especially during the last seven months. The restaurant industry has become arguably more important than ever throughout the pandemic. Regrettably, we can easily forget who is responsible for providing that service: people.
“I would first like to thank all the patrons for the immense love and support we have received,” shared Panjwani. “Everyone is so understanding, and their appreciative words always motivates the team to keep going and do their best. We would also want them to know that we are sensitive to this new world and take comfort that as humans we are all in this together.”
Evidently, revenue isn’t the sole focus of all businesses. And honestly, that’s tremendously refreshing. Some owners truly care about the safety of their employees and customers. If you are looking to support an up-and-coming Jersey City restaurant that genuinely cares about its workers as well as its patrons, look no further than Lokal Eatery & Bar.