Virus Reality Check: “We know how to work with nothing and keep going,” entrepreneurs say

Lin Rice
Omar D'Angelo, left, and his family run the Argentinian restaurant and food truck Barroluco.

The onset of COVID-19 has been swift, profound and staggering in the impact it’s had on the world’s economy. Business owners are just working to get by, keep their operations running, all while trying to keep themselves and their families healthy.

While the outlook for the future shifts daily, if not hourly, many Central Ohio business owners are rolling up their sleeves and figuring out solutions. Here are a few of their stories.

Aspen Careers

The Columbus staffing agency places direct hire and temporary positions for the legal field. Aspen Careers owner Teresa Shuler said the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of trying to accommodate law firm clients whose needs suddenly changed and job candidates who were suddenly without a clear path forward.

“I was literally having a panic attack in the office when I started realizing the seriousness of this and that everything was going to change,” Shuler says. “So much more was unknown, but (recently) the picture has at least been clearer, even though it’s not good.”

Shuler says the law firms her company works with began putting things on hold, uncertain of how to on-board new people as the governor urged Ohioans to stay at home. She saw opportunity, however: Many of the candidates they’ve been trying to recruit, now being at home, have had much more time to talk. As the law firms have put onboarding on hold, Shuler has been able to put more effort into the recruitment side of the business.

“(These candidates) are trying to focus on where they’ll go from here, and we’re going to get to the other side of all this with them,” she says. “I’m also working on a degree in entrepreneurship, and I can’t tell you how many things I’ve been learning that I can’t wait to implement when things settle down. I think in every business there are things that can be tweaked, and it’s a matter of using the time you have available.

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“There can be a level of depression, when everything is so uncertain, but if you can push past that and get to the excitement of implementing new ideas and improving your business … I would say that I’m still very excited about the future,” Shuler says.

Barroluco Argentine Comfort Food

The COVID-19 shutdown couldn’t have come at a more frustrating time for the D’Angelo family, owners of the Argentinian restaurant in Downtown Columbus and accompanying food truck. The family had just opened a new bar, Palmas Tropical Escape, in the first week of February, and have been gearing up to launch a second food truck.

The new venture, which shares a building with their restaurant in Pearl Alley, was barely open three weeks before having to temporarily close its doors, says owner Omar D’Angelo.

“But for those weeks we did have, we had so much fun,” he laughed. “It turned out the last day was March 14, and our guests were ready to party.”

D’Angelo says his family’s brick-and-mortar business is still open for carry-out and delivery, however, and the versatility a food truck offers has been keeping him extremely busy. Relying more on technology, he says the family has been focusing on accommodating online orders and taking business to customers.

“It’s OK, it’s just changing from my regular day where I worked almost 20 hours a day to now I feel like I’m working more,” he says. “I’m trying to be an optimist and try to get my employees settled, peace of mind, that we will survive. My whole life has been training me to go through this.”

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D’Angelo’s family moved to Columbus from their native Argentina in 2000 as that country went through a severe financial collapse. The family first opened a bakery in Whitehall, where they live, in 2014 adopting the name Barroluco after a well-loved Argentine sandwich. They brought the food truck on board in 2016.

“Coming from Argentina, we’ve gone through that financial crisis, we know how to work with nothing and keep going,” D’Angelo said. “But we’re all in the same boat. It’s something that many generations have gone through before, and this is our generation’s. We have been built for these kind of challenges. We will keep going.”

Libertas Wealth Management Group

For Libertas President Adam Koos, adjusting to the spread of COVID-19 has meant adopting a strict sterilization routine in his business’s small office on Horizons Drive.

“The goal is, for each time I get into my office—or each time I get home—for the inside of the office and inside of the home to be completely safe and sterile,” he says. “If we break any of these routines (Clorox wiping door handles and touched surfaces, not touching faces) then there’s that chance work or home could be contaminated, and we all realize that if one of us gets it, considering the long incubation period, we’re all likely to get it.”

Libertas provides retirement planning and portfolio management for individuals and businesses, among other services. Koos says that he typically takes a conservative approach to risk in terms of investment, and feels comfortable about his own business’ future. However, the sudden upheaval being caused by the worldwide pandemic has taken a toll on some of his clients.

“One of the heart-wrenching things we’ve experienced recently are the business owners—specifically—who’ve had to liquidate a portion of their retirement portfolios to either float their company for the time being, pay their employees something, or both,” Koos said. “So far, I can only count on one hand how many business owners have been forced to withdraw some of their cash, but it is really hard to execute these wire transfers for our team. We know how much it’s affecting their own personal retirement plans in the long run, and that’s difficult, since all these people are like families to us.”

Koos says while he handles stress pretty well, he does have concerns for the future. “I believe that attitudes, feelings, morale and even the stock market will start to improve—at least temporarily—once we start to see the beginnings of improvement in new cases, recoveries, and of course deaths as a result of the coronavirus,” he said. “However, if we look at the COVID-19 initiation in the U.S. as the impact, then I believe the probabilities of a shockwave that comes after the fact—specifically with regard to the economic impact, that is—I think the chances are extremely high that this causes the U.S. to fall into a recession.”

Lin Rice is a freelance writer.