“So where are public places? Restaurants. Bars. It’s the backbone of how our society runs, how it functions. Always has been. It’s very self evident at this moment.”
“It’s hard to describe. This is unlike anything ever right now.” Eric Kinlaw, who along with his wife Kristi, owns the Bee’s Knees and Hive Growler Bar in downtown Augusta. Eric made the very hard decision to close their two restaurants yesterday. In doing so, they temporarily laid off fifty staff members. Kinlaw spoke with the Metro Spirit Thursday March 20th, 2020.
Even though Eric and his wife had spent several years bartending and waiting tables before opening the Bee’s Knees, Kristi Kinlaw told the Metro Spirit in a 2017 interview that owning a business brought on several new challenges.
“Sure, we worked in restaurants, but I don’t think we knew what we were getting into at all,” she said. “I was literally 23 years old when we opened up Bee’s.”
“It’s like a bomb went off. We did curbside Monday and Tuesday and yesterday morning I shut it down. We gave all the perishables to our staff, all that we could, and we gave a little to the food bank. We’re done there now.”
In the 2017 article, Kristi shared the challenges of running your own business.
“You can’t be selfish because you are providing livelihoods for so many people,” she said. “You have to look at yourself alongside everyone because that is really what a true mom-and-pop restaurant is all about. It’s not a bunch of people working for us. It’s all of us working together. I would love to come down here and just be a chef, but there’s so much more to it.”
“You have to be everything from a psychologist to a bookkeeper to a plumber all in one day,” Eric said.
“I’m trying to whittle those off (recurring bills) me as soon as possible. I’m looking at a list right now and systematically trying to remove them. Not making any money. Crazy laundry list of things. Been dealing with some bigger issues today so I’ll pick it back up tomorrow and finish it.”
The Kinlaws said they borrowed a little more than $30,000 to open The Bee’s Knees in 2002, and it took them several years to pay off that loan.
“To be honest, we opened Bee’s for nothing, and it took us years to pay it off,” Eric Kinlaw said.
“Everybody is in shock right now. It was pretty abrupt but not abrupt. They saw it coming but definitely not prepared for it. We’re going to file temporary unemployment for everyone. We, as the employer, are responsible for that. Which is kind of insane, but it’s what the state set up. And we’re only allowed to do it for a finite time, and after that time I don’t know what we’re going to do. It’s new and uncharted and we can’t do it until Monday. I foresee it being a shit show.”
“By owning a restaurant, you truly learn the meaning of commitment,” Eric said.
“Do it because you love it,” he said. “You have to have a passion for it. You can’t do it for anything else. It doesn’t work if you do it for the fun of it because it’s not always fun.”
One of the keys to their success is having a core group of employees who have been with them for several years and understand their passion.
“They say once the temporary unemployment is processed they should get checks within two days. We have to do it every single week. It’s a weekly thing. We have fifty plus employees. It is not a short process and we don’t know how we’re going to handle it. My accountant has several other clients as well, so I hit him up early and asked these questions because I wanted my staff to be taken care of as much as I could, and I foresee it being a daunting task. I don’t know how it’s going to work because we’re not there yet.”
In 2015, the Kinlaws introduced downtown Augusta to their newest restaurant and pub, Hive Growler Bar.
“A lot has changed since we opened Bee’s Knees in 2002,” Kristi said. “Bee’s grew up with us. It became more mature with us as we matured. It went from this late-night bar, because that’s what we did when we were in our 20s, to kind of a family restaurant because these days, we have a family.”
“This is how they set it up. We got a letter from Kemp. I think we’re only allowed to do it for six weeks. I think after six weeks it falls on the employee. I’m sure this is just a buffer. What is going to happen to downtown? The same thing that is going to happen in every city in this country. We’re not special. Every neighborhood in this country is going to be impacted in the exact same way. And this is temporary unemployment. Being that we closed our restaurant this may change things. I have to kind of confirm that with my accountant. We’re saying that we’re temporarily closed. I don’t know if we’re permanently closed, so everything is temporary at this moment. So I’m assuming that this is the plan I have to take. If I’m permanently closed there might be a different situation and I’ll have to lay that out before Monday.”
In 2017, the Kinlaws were able to purchase the building on 10th Street that houses both of their restaurants.
“Restaurant business people have multiple jobs, work at two or three places sometimes. It’s going to be a lot. Restaurant industry is the front lines. We’re the infantry of this situation. You can’t meet in public places. So where are public places? Restaurants. Bars. It’s the backbone of how our society runs, how it functions. Always has been. It’s very self evident at this moment.”