When nine hotel school students fried their first chicken sandwiches from a Collegetown storefront this October, Daniel Jones ’22 was sure of one thing: the pandemic was the only reason they could open a restaurant.
The hotelie team turned the unoccupied Vietnam Restaurant into a pop-up takeout eatery. They dished out mac and cheese and burgers in single-use containers to college students lined up along Dryden Road. And they were serving takeout to about 150 customers a night.
But after four days of service, the virus was what shut down the student-run restaurant.
A 2 Stay 2 Go employee tested positive on Friday, throwing the business into a two-week hiatus as nine student-workers who were labeled “close contacts” returned to the Statler Saturday evening — this time for precautionary quarantine.
“We definitely had in the models that someone could get COVID. What are we going to do if someone gets it?” said Jones, the restaurant’s co-founder. “We had that conversation. The execution of that conversation is a lot different than planning it preemptively.”
Now, within the walls of the Statler, the team is planning the restaurant’s relaunch, following all Cornell Health, Cayuga Health and Tompkins County guidelines as they remain set on reopening Oct. 30.
According to Jones, however, the restaurant was technically allowed to keep operating under county regulations. All other 2 Stay 2 Go employees have since tested negative for the virus, but Jones said the team agreed to shut down to keep their staff and the community safe, even if quarantine meant losing two weeks of revenue.
But quarantine is just another obstacle for students running a restaurant, Jones said. The hotelies turned an idea into an operating eatery in five weeks — between prelims, they settled on contract agreements, marketing plans and strict safety guidelines.
And after pulling 3 a.m. nights, the team is quarantining in “good spirits,” said 2 Stay 2 Go president Samay Bansal ’21.
For co-founder and executive chef Noah Horns ’22, quarantine feels restful after more than a month of planning. The team made multiple six-hour trips to Rochester to find the right pan for the restaurant. They borrowed their friends’ trucks. They figured out how to cut up 300 pounds of chicken.
Horns said he has caught up with family members and on school work in between calls with his coworkers to plan to reopen the restaurant doors.
“We were going at such a crazy pace, so it’s a drastic change from what we were doing before this,” Horns said. “I am having a great time. I can’t think of any better way to be quarantining. I can’t think of a better way Cornell could be handling all of this.”
The community has offered 2 Stay 2 Go an “unimaginable” amount of support, eager for the restaurant’s return, Bansal added. The team has received gift card and custom cake orders, even after operating for just over a week, and Bansal said his friends wave to him from outside the Statler window.
“There’s no point being upset, because we have to make the best of it,” Bansal said. “It’s 14 days. We’re social college students sitting in rooms individually. We’re doing what we can not to go crazy.”
Despite the temporary setback, the 2 Stay 2 Go team said they are proud of what they achieved within the timespan, excited to continue serving the community that embraced them.
“It is not easy to start a restaurant in five weeks,” Bansal said. “It is just really cool. It’s unfortunate that this is what’s happening, but it was pretty cool.”
Jones interjected: “It’s still gonna be cool in two weeks.”