SPEEDWAY — Angela Halsey is a staple of McGilvery's Pub in Speedway, just like their popular pizzas, wings, and tenderloins that keep bringing loyal customers back to the business off 30th Street and High School Road.
"I started here in 1989 as a server," says Halsey, who is now the owner of the Irish Pub and has been since 2014. "We have a strong customer base that comes in on a regular basis and supports us. They walk in. They are like, this is our Cheers. They treat it like Cheers. They show up."
And Halsey says it is that unwavering support from the community that kept them in business through the pandemic and stay-at-home orders of 2020.
"I prepared for a rainy day or my sky falling," says Halsey as she reflects on March 2020. "I didn't prepare for it to fall quite that hard, but it did."
That week, Halsey and her staff prepped a huge amount of corned beef and cabbage as they prepared for one of their busiest days, St. Patrick's Day.
But as the virus showed up in the Hoosier state, the stay-at-home order went into effect, and Halsey and other restaurants were forced to close their indoor dining and revert to carry out orders only.
"Having an empty bar on St. Patrick's Day, which I have never seen," says Halsey. "We had so many calls and so many carry-outs. They bought out every ounce of corned beef and cabbage that we had prepared which by the way, we prepare like a hundred and fifty pounds of corned beef for Saint Patrick's Day."
At that moment, Halsey says she knew she had the special ingredient to longevity in the challenging restaurant business — community support.
As months carried on, many business owners in the industry had to lay off or furlough employees. Many workers left the restaurant world altogether. But Halsey was able to stay afloat and retain 100 percent of her full-time staff.
When she was forced to close her doors, she took advantage of the opportunity to do something she wanted to do for years but never wanted to close to do it — a major remodel.
And she got creative, paying her own staff to help with the project.
"They were carpenters. They were cleaners. We did a lot of remodeling, carpet, stage, walls, we took out a big screen," says Halsey. "It was a nice frustration release to rip out carpet and tear out bar tops."
Now with her restaurant back open for business, Halsey remains open to new ideas to support the community that supported her and her staff.
On Thursday mornings before opening for lunch, you can find a lively bunch of ladies line dancing at McGilvery's Irish Pub.
"You use your mind and your body," says Bonnie Lawrence who leads the senior women in line dance. "Dancing is the best thing you can do, haha. I may be a little partial, but it's wonderful. It's a wonderful activity."
Due to the pandemic, the community center where the group normally danced shuttered, leaving the ladies without a space for their activity that keeps them moving and interacting.
But a lunchtime conversation at McGilvery's Pub months ago changed everything.
"We happened to be sitting in here for lunch and kiddingly one of the ladies said, well we will just come here and dance," says Lawrence. Halsey overheard the group and the comment.
"And I'm like sure you can," says Halsey "And they are like no, we're just kidding. And I'm like, I'm not kidding."
Lawrence says they were astonished by Halsey's offer and generosity and decided to move their line dance lessons to McGilvery's on Thursday mornings while the pub is closed.
The wait staff pushes the tables and chairs out of the way at the end of business on Wednesday nights, the ladies dance and then move the tables back and stay for lunch to support the pub.
It's this kind of symbiotic relationship between the pub and the community that Halsey says makes all the difference when times get tough.
"This industry can struggle with dedicated employees," says Halsey. "This is what keeps establishments, small, like mine, going is those relationships."
Nationally and locally, many restaurants and bars are struggling to stay afloat right now and many shuttered in the pandemic.
Looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on the national level, workers in the hospitality industry are quitting their jobs at record rates. New job numbers from the month of May show 5.3% of hospitality workers left their jobs in May 2021. That is a record high for the industry and well above the average quit rate.
Many employers are working to combat this issue by raising wages to fill open positions. In just three months, pay in the leisure and hospitality industry has risen by 1%, according to the Labor Department.
Locally, economist and Ball State University professor Michael Hicks says that is still not enough to bring workers back post-pandemic.
Hicks says, "There is not yet evidence of significant wage increases that would signal an actual labor shortage. Until wages begin to rise, I expect the industry will struggle to attract workers."
But Halsey says she is blessed by both a loyal staff and loyal customer base.
"This is what my business model should be. My establishment is exactly what I want it to be and I get the support of the people that love it like it is. And these are the types of relationships that I've developed over the course of 30 some years and I feel very lucky to have all of that," says Halsey.