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Focus on the Future

The University of Scranton Small Business Development Center helps keep clients looking forward during uncertain times

While business restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic have hit Pennsylvania business particularly hard, one industry that has particularly borne the brunt of these limitations is the hospitality industry.

According to the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, 78 percent of Pennsylvania restaurant owners state that they do not expect their restaurant’s sales to return to pre-COVID-19 levels within the next six months, while 63 percent say it is unlikely their restaurants will still be in business six months from now if business conditions continue at current levels. Sixty-six percent of restaurant owners say it is unlikely their restaurant will still be in business six months from now, if there are no additional relief packages from the federal government.

With such alarming statistics, most restaurant owners are panicking during this pandemic but The University of Scranton’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) is here to help them keep their eyes on the future.

“Many restaurants are looking at state regulations and wondering if their businesses can even comply,” said Gretchen Kukuchka, one of the SBDC’s consultants. “They might feel it is unattainable, but we are here to lay out the different steps they can follow and help them sift through and determine which guidance is most applicable to their businesses.”

“The other guidance we have hit on with our restaurant clients is to encourage them to think creatively, presenting them with new strategies to run their restaurants once they feel like they can comply with what they need to,” she continued. “We converse with our clients and try to nail down the specifics of their situations so we can better assist them.”

One such client that Ms. Kukuchka has worked with is the Backyard Ale House. The downtown Scranton staple was one of many area restaurants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic but, as co-owner Pat Nasser explained, knowing that the SBDC team could assist him as he navigated the days following the state’s restrictions was an essential lifeline.

“Gretchen was one of the first people to reach out to us when the pandemic hit, talking about things that could help us get the gears turning again,” he said. “She told us about different things we could be doing, financial programs that might be put in place, and offered assistance to walk through all of this. They’ve been amazing—the SBDC didn’t just tell us they would help us, they showed us they were here to help.”

One such way Ms. Kukuchka and the SBDC staff helped the Backyard Ale House was as serving as a sounding board as they developed ideas to enhance their business, despite the pandemic’s limitations.

“We’ve learned that adapting is something essential if you want to survive, if you want to keep your business open in the future,” Mr. Nasser said. “Every restaurant has its own DNA. You find your niche and you work within that space, which like a part of your fingerprint. That niche tells you what you can or can’t do with the space you have. You can only do so many things with what you’re able to do within the industry.”

Helping all business owners discover their own survival niche is exactly what the SBDC has done and will continue to do as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s always our intention to keep ahead of the game as far as keeping business owners informed,” Ms. Kukuchka said. “The minute we hear of something, we want to pass that information along to them. The pandemic has increased the amount of time that business owners are spending in the office working on the ins and outs of their businesses. We’re trying to provide support to the operational element of these businesses, as well as just letting people know that we’re here if they need us.”

“In the case of the Backyard Ale House, the leadership team embraced and studied the market, and embraced the need for adaptability from the very beginning,” she continued. “But other businesses may not have been ready or even open to changing. Expecting change is the first step to surviving this pandemic, and you’re going to have to change weekly. That’s harder for some businesses than it is for others, and we understand that.”

And whether it’s adopting a new takeout menu or adding a new smoker to the premises to smoke meats in-house, the Backyard Ale House is ready to continue adapting until the pandemic passes.

“We’re just going to keep thinking of new things for now, because there’s no set model for success,” Mr. Nasser said, “We’re hoping to just fight through and get to better days. We’re trying to focus on what we want for our business when those better days do come and how prepared we can be for that day when we’re fully back in business. With the SBDC on our side, we are keeping focused on the future.”

To find out how The University of Scranton Small Business Development Center can assist your small business, visit

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