Bea's restaurant moves to only food delivery, pickup in response to coronavirus

Server Jamie Ellis, center, pours tea for customers Phyllis Bell, Anthony Harshaw, Gary Johnson and Justin Wood, from left, in Bea's Restaurant Thursday. The restaurant offered meals for a dollar to celebrate the restaurant's 60th anniversary celebration.

One of Chattanooga's oldest and most popular family-style diners famous for allowing patrons to share food on Lazy Susan tables has closed down its sit-down service and is launching delivery service for the first time in 70 years.

In response to growing health concerns caused by the spreading coronavirus, Bea's Restaurant is moving this week to sell its homemade meals only to those who pick up the meals or get delivery through a new partnership Bea's is undertaking with the restaurant delivery company Postmates.

The Dodds Avenue eatery, which celebrates its 70th anniversary in May at the same East Chattanooga location where Bill and Beatrice Steele opened the eatery in 1950, served its last sit-down meals on Sunday and will shift entirely to pickup and food delivery when it reopens on Wednesday.

"We want to do what we can to help in this situation and we need to adapt our model and do what we can to help our community," said Dusty Bradshaw, a fourth generation co-owner of Bea's who has a degree in environmental health.

Bradshaw said he will be working this week to upgrade Bea's Facebook site and prepare to begin meal deliveries on Wednesday for lunch and dinner.

In a facebook post, Bea's said it hopes to soon add more delivery options beyond postmates "and we will be working with local elected officials and community leaders to help to address community needs as they come up" as more students and employees work from home and more individuals could be quarantined to their own home.

"Given the current health crisis we have taken the precautionary measure of suspending dine in services at this time to protect our customers and staff until further notice," the company announced last week. "We pray this passes and things can return to normal as quickly as possible."

Bea's is one of the first area sit-down restaurants in Chattanooga to move entirely to take out or delivery services during the coronavirus pandemic, but it is likely not to be the last.

On Sunday, the governors in four states mandated the closings of bars, restaurants and wineries in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus and Nashville Mayor John Cooper urged restaurants and bars to limit their operations in Davidson County.

In Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine said bars and restaurants can stay open for carry-out and delivery but "what we can't have is people congregating and seated."

"I can't tell you how sorry I am, but we will work to mitigate the suffering," DeWine said."Every day we delay, more people will die."

Tennessee and Georgia has not yet imposed such statewide limits on restaurants and bars, although Gov. Bill Lee has urged in Tennessee to avoid all gatherings with 250 or more people.

Nonethless, Bradshaw said many restaurants are already feeling the fallout of the virus, noting that fewer people are leaving their homes or going out to eat amid fears of the virus.

Bea's, which is often a popular after-church destination on Sundays, had far less business Sunday with most churches closed to limit the spread of the virus.

"It's a little like Pearl Harbor," Bradshaw said. "But this is not the time for fear; it's a time for our community to come together and we hope we can do our part."