One of the things people are finding as they make their way through this new normal brought on by COVID-19 is that they end up doing things they never planned to do. Sometimes it is doing something just to get by under trying circumstances. Other times it involves finding new ways to reach out to help people who may be struggling. In the case of a local business, it has been a happy combination of both.
Back in July, Ryan Neville and his fiancée Jacquelyn had a restaurant almost fall in their laps. Though neither of them had ever aspired to be in food service, River Dogs of Belmont came with a built-in clientele of oil field workers who were staying in the nearby campground. Shortly after, they decided to expand, opening the River Dog Café & Diner in Williamstown. Inside seating and an expanded menu, along with a desire to create a nice relaxing place to have a good meal made the River Dog popular pretty quickly. Ironically, due to staffing and time issues, they had to shut down the original location, but the new location was going strong.
And then along came COVID-19, putting a strain on every small business, none more than restaurants, which were being forced to try to subsist on drive-through and delivery. Add to that the stay-at-home orders in both Ohio and West Virginia, which were pushing people to eat at home more, and small restaurants really started feeling the pressure. Looking at how their business had dropped off, Neville was faced with the somber prospect of having to shut down. But then he got an idea from an online connection who was helping some restaurant owners convert their stores to something that could keep them afloat while also helping some folks who needed groceries but were not interested in dealing with larger stores and the crowds that go with them during this time of social distancing.
And that’s how the River Dog Café & Diner became, at least for the time being, a drive-through grocery store. “I stayed up until 4:00am putting together this plan,” Neville said. He then presented it to his fiancée, who was completely on board. So, they contacted their distributors to see what groceries they could provide and, based on that, distributed a list to everyone they knew. They take pre-paid orders online by Sundays at noon and groceries are available for pick-up on Tuesday. Orders later in the week are available on Thursday or Friday.
While one of the goals is to keep their business afloat, the main aim is something much more selfless. “We’re cutting down on the chaos,” said Neville. “Let me tell you who we’re doing this for. We’re doing it for those over 60. For those who might have existing illnesses that make them more susceptible to COVID-19.” He is hoping to help people who may not feel safe going to larger grocery stores or even use their delivery services. “We’re cutting down on the number of hands that touch the groceries before they get it.”
Customers don’t even need to get out of their cars. They just pull up, give their names, and pull around to wait. The groceries are dropped in their trunks or back seats for them. For people in Pleasants County, they also use the original River Dogs location as a drop-off point.
To order, just go to their website, riverdogdiner.com and click on the link. They have all the basic groceries you may need, from staples like paper towels and toilet paper to meat, produce, and canned goods. You may also access them by searching for them on Facebook. An app is in the works and should roll out soon.
The goal isn’t a permanent conversion. Once this crisis subsides, Ryan and Jacquelyn hope folks will find one of their favorite Williamstown eateries open for business once again. But in the meantime, they are excited to be filling a need for some of our area’s most vulnerable. This fits perfectly with Mr. Neville’s philosophy that one of the most important goals when going into business is to do good. “That’s the way it should be. You help people and you keep yourself going.” And he is definitely doing that.