Krystle Rodriguez first opened Hodgepodge Coffeehouse eight years ago in East Atlanta Village. Last spring, a second, smaller outpost opened down the road on Moreland Avenue in Reynoldstown, and a third Hodgepodge location is slated to eventually open in Summerhill on Hank Aaron Drive.
It’s already been a roller coaster year for Rodriguez. In February 2019, a car traveling down Moreland lost control and smashed through the front wall into the “living room” of Hodgepodge in East Atlanta Village. The car crashed inches away from where Atlanta artist Kayleen Scott had been working outside on a new front mural just a few hours prior. No one was seriously injured, but the dining area and artist market closed for several weeks for repairs. Rodriguez went on to open the new Reynoldstown location in April 2019, followed by the reopening of the refurbished cafe area at the East Atlanta Village shop.
Then the pandemic struck in mid-March. Restaurant and cafe dining rooms across Georgia were forced to close due to COVID-19, and the public was placed under a statewide shelter-in-place order.
“Business plummeted right around 70 percent when everything started [in March.] It was scary. We didn’t know if we were going to be able to stay open,” Rodriguez tells Eater Atlanta. “We offered furlough to any of the staff who wanted to stay home, but the majority wanted to keep working.”
Hodgepodge quickly pivoted to takeout only and opened an online marketplace to make ends meet, selling everything from pantry staples and paper goods, to food and drinks for limited delivery and curbside pickup.
So far, the online market has allowed Hodgepodge to recoup some of the revenue lost during those first few weeks. “We were able to slowly crawl back out to about a 40 percent decline this week,” she says. “It’s been a wild ride. But it’s also shown us how amazing our communities are.”
With Georgia’s shelter-in-place order now lifted and restaurants permitted to reopen dining rooms, Rodriguez faces new challenges, including when to reopen for dine-in service and how to keep staff and patrons safe during an ongoing pandemic.
The number of COVID-19 cases is expected to spike in Georgia over the coming weeks with businesses reopening across the state and people returning to public life. New models indicate the United States could see as many as 3,000 deaths per day by June 1, as other states around the country begin reopening economies.
Rodriguez, who has a medical condition which leaves her immunocompromised, isn’t sure when she’ll be able to safely return to work at Hodgepodge. With the shelter-in-place order lifted, she worries some people won’t take COVID-19 seriously, leaving her staff at risk of contracting the virus. She’s keeping both shops closed for dine-in service.
“I let our staff know that this is our new normal throughout the summer. Georgia hasn’t done enough tests, we haven’t had our numbers decline, and we don’t have the medical infrastructure to handle this sort of pandemic,” she says. “So we’re waiting. I would much rather us lose sales for the next three to six months than know we’re negatively impacting the public health of Atlanta [by reopening for dine-in service.]”
In addition to enhancing sanitation practices, offering online ordering, and requiring all staff to wear masks, customers must also wear masks upon entering Hodgepodge. The coffee shops even provide disposable face masks for those who do not have one, along with hand sanitizer. Hodgepodge sells reusable cloth masks in children and adult sizes, too. These locally made masks cost between $4 and $10 and can be purchased onsite or online.
The CDC recommends people wear face masks to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 while in public, especially within enclosed spaces like restaurant dining rooms, retail shops, and grocery stores. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is also urging the public to wear masks inside businesses, grocery stores, and when picking up takeout.
Rodriguez says she’s disappointed by the governor’s haste to reopen businesses in the state right now and with what she considers the “imaginary ‘choices’” people claim business owners have been given in reopening. Despite it all, she credits her “phenomenal” staff for continuing to keep the wheels turning at Hodgepodge Coffeehouse throughout the global health crisis.
“As a business owner, it’s my responsibility to protect my employees as much as I can when they are at work,” Rodriguez says of why she’s requiring customers to wear masks inside her shops. “We’ll be keeping this policy in place until the CDC and other experts say we’re safe enough to stop.”
Follow Hodgepodge Coffeehouse on Instagram for updates.
Stay home if sick. Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for guidance and twice-daily updates on the latest number of reported COVID-19 cases.