BENTON COUNTY — Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a well-known restaurant is struggling to find the right way to open this June.

Owners and sisters Launa Collins and Tracy Rupe, who took over the business from their parents Charley and Evonne Peaster, said they closed Charley’s Buffet the third weekend of March due to the coronavirus. Charley’s, 9 miles south of Cole Camp on state Route B and 16 miles east of Lincoln, has amassed a huge following in its 20 years of operation. The women said all food is homemade.

As they struggle with a plan for reopening, the women have had support from the community but have also received “hate mail” on social media for being closed.

“People are going to be mad either way,” Collins said. “What happened is the worst of the worst. Our overhead is so high that in order to come out (ahead) we have to serve in quantity, we have to serve 750 people to break even.”

The conundrum due to the pandemic is the limit on how many customers can be inside at one time while on the flip side meat prices have escalated since the outbreak. Beef per pound was $2.75 but is now costing the restaurant $8.75. A box of chicken that once cost $45 now is costing $69. Trucks bringing supplies are running behind.

Other issues are also in play.

“With all the health restrictions, we can’t afford to put up all the Plexiglas,” Rupe said. “They want us to change how we serve our food to family-style.”

She added they were asked to purchase bowls so food could be served family-style instead of on the buffet.

“That’s a lot of extra equipment that I don’t have right now,” Rupe noted. “And because we had just reopened for the season, we didn’t have a lot of extra (finances) built up.

“We didn’t have anything to invest,” she continued. “Normally we save all year and it would have been better if this would have happened to me at a different time of year. We could have recovered a little better.”

Collins said she has spoken with the Benton County Health Department and it has given the business the green light to reopen. The women plan to reopen the weekend of June 5 and 6 and they will place signs up stating the COVID-19 guidelines. If possible they plan to offer a buffet.

“We called our health inspector and he said as long as we took all the precautions, had a game plan, have masks, gloves … and the 6-feet apart, he thought we could go for it,” she added. “But I feel that I’m going to have all these people come in and it will be so slow … I feel like I’m going to have people mad at me.”

Collin and Rupe added when they reopen they encourage people to purchase to-go orders instead of eating inside.

Charley’s employs 10 to 12 people in the kitchen and has seven wait staff. The women said since the pandemic they have lost half of their kitchen staff, who needed to take jobs elsewhere. 

Due to all these scenarios, the women are asking patrons to have patience as they begin the reopening process.

Both women added although there have been negative posts on social media, they have received a large amount of community support.

“We just need to see if people still want us here and appreciate what we do, and are on our side,” Collins said. “The hate mail has pretty much stopped now, I think people was just scared. It’s almost like the end-times.”

Collins added, “we’re not after the dollar, we’re only trying to do the best we can.”

For more information and reopening updates, find Charley’s Buffet on Facebook, email charleysbuffet@gmail.com or call 660-668-3806.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Faith Bemiss is a reporter for the Sedalia Democrat, covering general assignment, arts, food and entertainment stories. She can be reached at 660-530-0289.

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