With campus reopening, local businesses are hoping for a return of students to their doors. For many small restaurants and cafes in Forest Grove, the start of the semester has been a chance to draw in new and returning customers at a time when many are choosing not to eat out. And while the return of Pacific’s population has definitely been noticed, it’s clear that things are not heading back towards normal any time soon.
“It’s been a slow, quite slow, increase,” said KC Nguyen, the manager of Telvet Coffee, a popular coffee shop on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Cedar. Foot traffic and takeout has been decent through the pandemic, but recent weeks have seen an increase in people dining in, which Nguyen attributes to campus’s opening.
“Even though we’re allowed to have, you know, twenty five capacity, usually [we] only have like five people here. Now with the students, they come, they sit, they study, so it’s almost full most of the time,” said Nguyen. Since the start of the semester, the shop has seen a 10% increase in sales.
“It looks alive, instead of a dead, quiet building,” Nguyen said.
Bella Donna’s Bistro and Patisserie on 21st and Main has seen a similar increase in student involvement. It’s a new experience for the restaurant, which only opened its doors last winter.
“The college students didn’t even know we were there yet,” said Donna Gustafson, owner of Bella Donna’s, on the sudden closure back in March, which pulled most of the campus population away from Forest Grove just before the beginning of the usually busier summer season. Business has been slow to return to normal.
“You see people coming in, and they open the door slowly. They’re very hesitant to come in. They’re afraid,” said Gustafson. Outdoor seating has become far more important for her and her customers lately. Bella Donna’s student study space has largely sat empty since the pandemic started.
“We’re hoping to have that vibe come back. Right now that’s obviously not possible,” Gustafson said. However, Bella Donna’s is still optimistic about the future. “Since the college has opened, we have definitely seen a lot of college kids coming in. We’re hoping to see more of you guys.”
Unlike Telvet and Bella Donna’s, the reopening of campus has not been felt as strongly in recent weeks by Bamen Ramen, a local food truck located along 19th and Ash.
“We’ve had a few [students], but not as many as we had in the fall,” said Suzi Jewett, Co-Owner of Bamen Ramen. The focus of the truck has largely shifted from dine-in and larger groups towards takeout. Jewett is still optimistic about the situation.
“For our business, we have relatively low overhead, so we expect to be able to support and keep the business going if things stay as is,” Jewett said. “We’re blessed to kind of be in the situation we have with our food truck vs a brick and mortar. So I see our opportunity for sustainability as a lot better than restaurants with brick and mortar.”
To help draw more customers as well as support the community, Bamen Ramen is doing a free ramen giveaway every other Sunday to give support to the community in the midst of COVID-19. They are also offering 10% discounts for all Pacific University students. — Dawson Oliver
Photo: The reopening of Pacific’s campus has given local coffee shop Telvet Coffee an increase in dine-in customers (Dawson Oliver)