Being an Essential Restaurant Worker and a Mother Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

. April 2, 2020.
(Contributed by Amber Messman): Zola Bistro Manager Amber Messman is one of many in the restaurant business balancing new restrictions with getting meals to her customers. She is also a parent managing the new online school reality with her two high schoolers.
(Contributed by Amber Messman): Zola Bistro Manager Amber Messman is one of many in the restaurant business balancing new restrictions with getting meals to her customers. She is also a parent managing the new online school reality with her two high schoolers.

While much of the world has largely shut down, restaurant employees like Amber Messman keep doing what they do best— lovingly getting meals to their customers. Messman is one of the many doing this while also juggling the responsibilities of a parent with kids at home full-time.

Messman, who is the manager at Zola Bistro, 3030 Washtenaw Ave., says she feels grateful to be among those considered essential workers under the coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions and is doing what she can to make sure her customers are taken care of. 

Business adjustments

“There have definitely been a lot of changes on a regular basis. Our number one priority is we of course want everyone to be safe and healthy,” Messman said. Restrictions brought on by the coronavirus (COVID-19) have meant adjusting schedules, furloughing some employees, streamlining menus and shifting what was largely a dine in restaurant to curbside and delivery. 

“We are offering a more limited menu available all day,” she said. Both Zola Bistro and sister restaurant Cafe Zola, 112 W. Washington St., are open 11am-9pm daily with brunch options offered all day. 

Increased sanitation practices and contact-less takeout

Messman said they have enhanced already stringent cleaning practices, sanitizing everything more frequently and offering a contact-free curbside pickup. “Every time we have a pickup order, we sanitize the whole table and door between each pick up.” A popular menu item has been their Turkish brunch, which includes a variety of easily packable and snack-friendly items like breads, hard-boiled eggs, vegetarian dolmas, cheeses, olives and tea. 

Managing high schoolers at home

While Messman adjusts to the changing landscape at work, at home she has two highschoolers, Keagan, 17, and Riley, 15. Both attend Community High School and are among the multitude of students trying to make online school workable. 

“It’s a balancing act,” Messman said. “It is easier in a way, yes, because they are older, but it’s also hard. They are looking for direction and it’s hard not to be there for them, but we are still in contact through text and the phone.” 

Messman said her teens do miss the interaction of school and online classes are not easily translatable for some of the courses her children are taking. “Keagan is in a home building course for half of his school day and there’s not really a good way to do that online.” Messman’s kids have been taking more walks, reading and are also busy just being “lazy teenagers,” she says jokingly. She said they have expressed an interest in wanting to learn to cook.

Bright spots 

(Contributed by the LaFleur family): Ken and Mariel LaFleur were pleased to be able to keep their Zola birthday celebration tradition by ordering their birthday crepe to go and enjoying it at home. Businesses are still offering a personal touch even while social distancing.

(Contributed by the LaFleur family): Ken and Mariel LaFleur were pleased to be able to keep their Zola birthday celebration tradition by ordering their birthday crepe to go and enjoying it at home. Businesses are still offering a personal touch even while social distancing.

In all the disruption and uncertainty, Messman said she is staying positive and embraces the moments when even amidst social distancing and contact-free pickup you can have heartwarming human interaction.

“We have this couple who regularly comes in who called and wanted to figure how we can make their traditional celebration translate to a home celebration. We were able to get them a couple of items that were not on our limited menu.” 

The couple, Ken and Mariel LaFleur, sent Messman a picture with their special birthday Nutella banana crepe and a thank you.

“We were able to continue our long tradition of celebrating Ken’s birthday with Cafe Zola, thanks to you— all,” Mariel LaFleur said.

Messman said there are also those regular customers that check in by waving as they walk by the restaurant. Customers are also showing support by ordering gift cards and ordering through their takeout menu.

“We really feel the support and community involvement,” she said. “It is heartwarming.”  As for Messman, she says she is trying to take things one day at a time. “I just try to keep as positive as possible. You can’t dwell on things you can’t change.”

For more information about curbside and delivery options from Zola Bistro or Cafe Zola go to CafeZola.com