Cold winter days are fast approaching in Michigan, and restaurants and coffee shops that have been relying on outdoor service to survive are going to have to get creative to stay afloat as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

As part of the weekly series MichMash, MLive’s Cheyna Roth and public radio station WDET’s Jake Neher spoke with Strange Matter coffee shop owner Elaine Barr about how they’ve been planning ahead and revamping to stay open once the snow comes.

Listen to Roth and Neher’s full conversation with Strange Matter co-owner Elaine Barr on the player above.

Barr owns Strange Matter with her wife Cara Nader. When the pandemic hit, they went into damage control mode.

“We spent about two days in May congratulating ourselves for surviving April. And for those two days, our thought process was basically, ‘Oh, we made it through April, we can make it through anything,’” Barr said.

“And after those two days were up, we quickly corrected ourselves and started preparing for winter. Because the one thing that I think the public health experts have been consistent on over the last several months, is but the winter is going to be bad.”

That meant completely revamping the exterior of one of their locations. In June they had a carpenter build “Cubby” an exterior area with a sliding plastic window that allows customers to order or pick up orders without any contact. They plan to keep “Cubby” throughout the winter and have no plans to return to indoor service anytime soon.

Strange Matter was also quick to move to delivery service, online ordering, and bottled lattes and beverages for order.

“Taking it seriously from the beginning, and having a plan moving forward was the only way that we could stay open,” Barr said.

Strange Matter coffee shop makes plans to stay afloat during COVID-19

Early on in the pandemic, Strange Matter owners Cara Nader and Elaine Barr built “cubby” in order to provide contactless pickup to customers.

The ability to make changes and adapt has been crucial for Strange Matter, and the pandemic has permanently changed how they do business.

Their downtown location was unable to recover once Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s stay at home order was lifted. That’s because they relied heavily on the state employee traffic that populates most of downtown.

“We anticipate that that level of office worker in that level of foot traffic in downtown Lansing is not going to come back,” Barr said. “So we’re having to sort of reimagine altogether what we’re going to do with that space.”

The downtown location is now going to become a spot where Strange Matter roasts its own coffee. Barr said they’re excited about the change and are trying their best to treat the pandemic as “an opportunity for growth.”

“It will help us cut costs, it will change how we can generate revenue, and it hopefully will only become a good thing for us,” she said.

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