Pizza During the Pandemic: Juniper Tackles Challenges Head On

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Juniper Pizza Cafe owner Sherry Nehl prepares a pie for a customer

Opening a new restaurant comes with many hurdles and surprises, but Sherry Nehl did not expect a global pandemic to be one of them when she opened Juniper Pizza Cafe in February, just weeks before quarantines and shutdowns went into effect due to COVID-19.

“I think it will be similar to my grandparents living through the Great Depression,” Nehl said. “… opening a business right before the pandemic hit, it has kept us on our feet, always thinking about the bottom line, how to become more efficient, more consistent, how to offer our best product every time because we can’t afford one unhappy customer.”

Nehl has had a lifelong dream of owning her own restaurant, one that finally came to fruition this year. With support from her husband, family and community, she opened the doors to Juniper Pizza Cafe after months of planning, renovations and recipe testing. Nehl and her family spent countless hours upgrading and restoring the restaurant’s new home on Price City’s Main Street, preparing to come out with a bang and impress the local community.

While many restaurants experience hiccups in the weeks immediately after opening, a global pandemic is not often one of them. Instead of being knocked down, Nehl took the challenge in stride, seeing it as an opportunity to improve and explore new ideas.

“I’m so appreciative that we’ve had the opportunity to really understand take-out and curbside; we will definitely continue to offer this after the pandemic is over,” said Nehl. “We tried delivery but it wasn’t as popular as we’d hoped, so we decided to put those resources toward what is working.”

Nehl and her team also developed and implemented pizza kits, which provide ingredients for customers to create and bake their own pizzas at home. The kits have been widely popular along with the variety of desserts that Nehl makes from scratch.

The cafe’s online platform has also been widely utilized by the community. Online ordering was already in the works before the pandemic hit and was quickly implemented as situations continued to evolve. “It was a quick transition to taking our menu live so that we could accept online orders,” Nehl explained. “I had been closely following other restaurants in Ohio and Oregon where the restrictions were taking place earlier and gleaned some great ideas this way. We quickly began offering contact-free delivery, online payment and ‘quaranteam’ family meal kits. Being new, we’re willing to try anything we think our community would enjoy.”

While the community support has been crucial for Juniper Pizza Cafe during these times, Nehl said her staff has been equally important. “Our employees have become such a team; I’d even say we’re like family right now,” she said. “They encourage me when I’m having a tough day, and I hope they can say the same about me. We handle changes and challenges together and there isn’t one menu item or idea I’ve had that hasn’t been improved a little by an employee’s fresh take on it. I’m truly blessed.”

Despite the uncertainty of the future, Nehl remains optimistic as the restaurant navigates COVID-19. “We’re so fortunate to have the people that we have here, and our location (downtown) is perfect for what we want to bring to Price,” said Nehl. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

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