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The Washington Street Bar and Grill staff celebrates May 13 winning a $2,500 tip from Certified Angus Beef in its #Restaurant Challenge.

Itemizer-Observer

DALLAS — The last time Polk County went into the extreme coronavirus risk category April 30, the day was another in a long line of setbacks for the restaurant industry, forced to close dine-in services again.

However, the day also provided a ray of sunshine for management at Washington Street Steakhouse & Pub. Adam and Lauren Hoefler learned their restaurant had been selected as a weekly winner in Certified Angus Beef’s #Restuarant Challenge.

As much as they wanted to share the good news with their staff of 31 employees, the Hoeflers had to keep the announcement a secret until an official ceremony May 13.

“It wasn’t hard at first, then people start talking, rumors start, then it’s one of those things that things slip away. It wasn’t bad until the last four days,” said general manager Adam.

Then when the day approached, “We told them, you need to wear the uniform, look presentable,” said operations manager Lauren.

“Then they turn into children, ‘Why? What’s going on?’” Adam added.

What was going on was a presentation of a $2,500 “tip” to be shared by the staff of Washington Street Steakhouse & Pub, presented by Certified Angus Beef.

Heidi Schroeder, Certified Angus Beef Oregon representative, explained the company wanted to find a way to show appreciation to the restaurants and restaurant workers across the country to highlight that partnership.

So, beginning in February, diners were encouraged to post on social media their favorite moment while dining out using #RestuarantChallenge. Ten were chosen randomly to win $100 each and two restaurants were selected randomly weekly to receive $2,500. Certified Angus Beef’s #Restaurant Challenge ended April 11 and Washington Street Steakhouse & Pub was one of its final winners.

“For some states it was easier to go and dine in than it has been in our state,” Schroeder told the Washington Street Steakhouse & Pub staff. “We know we’ve been shut down as much or more than other states. The whole challenge was to get people out dining at restaurants, dining in, dining outside, doing takeout, giving a nice tip, thanking everyone for continuing to work.”

She then announced they were one of the weekly winners and handed out $50 gift cards to each staff member.

“We just want to say thank you, truly thank you, for keeping up your hard work out with the people, supporting your restaurant,” Schroeder said.

Lauren said after so many closures and re-openings since the beginning of the pandemic March 2020, her staff needed the good news, a bit of excitement.

“It’s been very hard,” Lauren said, before getting emotional, leaning into husband Adam’s shoulder to staunch the flow of tears. “Our employees are so good. They have honestly been so strong about it. ‘We can do this.’ The last time they shut us down, that’s why we have more tables outside than inside. Mother’s Day we had four dining rooms. We’ve done this all as a team, pretty much a family.”

Lauren, whose parents Glen and Debbie Conaway own the steakhouse, grew up in the restaurant, while Adam has worked there since he was 16.

“We’ve had staff that’s worked for us over 15 years,” Lauren said. “We’re always a big family. We all went through it together.”

“I think the only time we laid anybody off was at the get-go, last March, just because of the unknown of where we’d be at,” Adam added. “Within two weeks, we realized we needed every single one of them. So, we started bringing them back.”

Lauren said they sent a message out on their scheduling app, whoever can get here, they needed help.

“Five people showed up within a half hour. That just speaks to how family oriented we are,” Adam said.

They explained the restaurant couldn’t have succeeded throughout the pandemic without the support of the community.

“Our community has kept us alive and our staff and employees, and for them to pay their bills and feed their family,” Lauren summed up. “Our community is amazing.”

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