MEDFORD, New York -- When I first visited the Carolina Kitchen of Medford, Long Island's newest soul food restaurant, lines were wrapping around the storefront as the aroma of fresh fried chicken waiting to be served to hungry guests filled the room.
However, the coronavirus pandemic hit them hard, when they took it upon themselves to close the restaurant for their customers and staff safety.
Owners, Shelly and Khassin Wheeler were devastated to close the shop for almost five months right after their business grew popularity in the community, but they were confident that they would not have to close the business for good.
"I missed them," said one customer who has been checking in with the restaurant periodically to see when they were going to reopen. "There are not too many places around here, it's good to have someone around here make soul food."
Once Long Island's coronavirus numbers hit an all-time low, the Wheelers reached out to their staff, who are also a part of their family, to make a game plan. After some brainstorming, they were prepared to make their come back strong and with the proper safety protocols.
"We're definitely fighters we don't give up," said Shelly. "For a second there it did cross our mind like wait a second what's really going to happen? Is this how it's always going to be? Is the business going to be that slow? When we came back in June, it was a scary time."
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They made their first attempt to reopen in June but ultimately failed since most people were still social distancing at home. Now that more restaurants as well as its customers are adapting to the new normal, the Wheelers are slowly seeing their business come back to life.
"We're putting all our love into this food and we hope that it just shines through," said Shelly. "It's a lot for the restaurant industry right now, especially on a regular day, it's a hard business. Right now we're in a special time and we're all just being careful with every single thing that we are doing."
Every day before staff members can clock in for their shift, their temperatures are checked and masks have to be worn at all times. Staff members regularly receive coronavirus tests to make sure that there is no risk factor when they are coming into work.
"Once I commit to something, anything no matter what it is I'm going to keep going no matter what," said Khassin. "We put our all into this."
The grand reopening was an exciting day for the Wheelers and their staff. Many loyal customers came out to support their favorite restaurant once again to get their famous fried chicken.
"I hope to bring everyone something new and exciting food that we have," said Shelly. "I say exciting because it is definitely authentic and its soul food, its comfort food. It's the food that is going to make you feel good."
Contact Community Journalist Alex Ciccarone