OREGON – It has been quite a year for Matt Ajvazi.
The 2013 Oregon High School graduate took over the family business, Spring Valley Restaurant, in January of this year. Two months later, the pandemic hit, and the restaurant has been closed six months out of those 12.
“It’s been challenging, of course,” Ajvazi said during a recent interview inside the restaurant. “I feel like every industry has been impacted with the pandemic. The restaurant and bar industry got hit really hard.”
Instead of letting the pandemic dictate what happens to his business, Ajvazi – whose family has owned the restaurant since 1999 – has instead innovated. He started by adding a pickup window during the first shut down. And when the restaurant was open for limited inside dining, takeout orders because a regular part of his business.
When the last shut down happened in early October, Ajvazi decided it was time to add a drive through window to the Oregon restaurant. So now, it is Spring Valley Restaurant and Drive Thru.
“During the second shut down the drive through system kind of went hand in hand and it just made sense to try something like that,” he said.
For a young man who grew up working at the business, Ajvazi seems to have approached this year with the resolve of a seasoned veteran. He started by taking the advice of those tasked with keeping the community safe.
“I’ve been in constant communication with the Ogle County Health Department, just trying to figure out the new mitigations and what the rules are and what we should be doing as restaurant owners,” he said.
There has been resistance from some, of course. But Ajvazi said he has placed the focus on keeping the restaurant clean, adding plexiglass when there was dine-in service and making sure people wore masks.
Some didn’t like that and went elsewhere. Ajvazi said he is not one to tell people what to do but feels like he has done what is right for his business.
“We are in December, and I am proud to say that we have been doing the right thing since the pandemic hit,” he said.
And the new drive through, which had a soft opening on Dec. 2, has been a hit with customers. Ajvazi said the drive through for now is focused on a broasted chicken dinner. He said wait times for dinner have been a bit longer, but the product is worth it and people have been patient.
“We’re just really happy to have the support from the community,” he said. “It’s very reassuring and just makes us feel good about doing the right thing.”
Ajvazi – who played soccer in Eastern Europe for years after high school – said the plan is to keep the drive through even when the pandemic is over, and to expand the menu soon.
And as 2021 looms, there is hope that a vaccine will make 2021 a much better year for his business and others.
“With the vaccine coming out, it gives us the reassurance that if you do the right thing and follow the rules and really believe in yourself then there will always be light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.