The Old Bowie Grille had to close a day before St. Patrick's Day last year because of the pandemic, but it got a little luck from the Irish when, on the verge of closing, it got financial assistance from the Barstool Fund and a $5,000 donation so that owner Theresa Thompson could give her staff a Christmas bonus.
The closing of the Old Bowie Town Grille to the public for indoor dining on March 16, 2020, was especially cruel because St.Patrick's is one of its most profitable days of the year. For most of the pandemic, the Old Bowie Town Grille has moved to a carry-out and delivery model, to abide by Maryland state laws imposed to limit indoor dining and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines put in place to protect the community from the transmission of COVID-19.
“The biggest challenge at first was trying to keep people positive. It's so easy to be negative, and it was hard for a while because of the uncertainty. People didn't know what was really going on, so bringing happiness to someone was crucial,” said Theresa Thompson, Old Bowie Town Grille’s owner and manager.
The “Grille”, as regulars call it, is best known for its family atmosphere. Kat Redford, a Bowie resident has been a regular of the restaurant and bar for 13 years, where she’s enjoyed Shepherd's Pie and outdoor music. Redford attributes her family's desire to return to the Old Bowie Town Grille to the close relationships they’ve developed with Thompson and her staff, and other establishment regulars.
“What differentiates the Grille is the family atmosphere,” Redford said “If you go to the Grille to get food, you will more than likely meet the owner. Theresa is amazing. She will talk to you, remember your name and greet you next time you come in so you always feel welcome at the Grille.”
Even with an enormous amount of support from Redford and others in the Bowie community, Thompson says she knew she needed assistance in keeping her family business alive amidst the pandemic. To help pay her employees, rent and other operating expenses, Thompson turned to the Barstool Fund, financial support created by the founder of Barstool Sports, Dave Portnoy, to help small businesses across the country with financial assistance amidst COVID-19.
Barstool Sports is a digital media company that produces content focused on sports and pop-culture. Portnoy started the Barstool fund in December of 2020 to help small businesses around the country. The fund has doled out over $37 million to 332 businesses across the country. People are able to directly donate to restaurants that are eligible or they can donate directly to the Barstool fund, where the money will be distributed to multiple businesses at https://www.barstoolsports.com/the-barstool-fund.
Thompson found out about the Barstool Fund after some of her regular customers had reached out and told her about it. The fund required her to reach out via email to email@example.com or to fill out an application at TheBarstoolFund.com/apply. Small businesses are eligible to receive money if they are still paying their employees amidst the pandemic, according to the Barstool Fund website. So, Thompson sent an email to Barstool Sports, filled out an application and then sent a video to the Barstool Fund’s twitter page, demonstrating the type of business that needed saving. Then she waited.
It was a Friday in February and Thompson was strolling at a lake near her home in Bowie when she got a call from Portnoy himself on her cell phone.
“The day he called I was on a walk and I stopped and answered a Facetime from a random number and I was so happy,” Thompson said, noting that Portnoy told her that Barstool was there to help with everything they needed to keep their business afloat. “I am so thankful. My faith has changed remarkably, and I would tell you it’s not me, but it’s the grace of God. It's funny how he puts people in certain places when you need help.”
But Thompson and Old Bowie Town Grille got another stroke of luck at Christmas.Thompson recounts how a patron of the restaurant donated money to help pay her staff around the holidays. “Our regulars were amazing from the beginning making donations, and asking what they could do to help. For Christmas, someone gave me $5,000 to give to my staff for their Christmas bonus,” Thompson said.
Thanks to that financial help, Thompson and the Old Bowie Town Grille have been focused on bringing happiness to the people they serve during COVID-19, even when they were facing major problems themselves.
One of Thompson’s staff members, Alexis Isherwood, has been at the Old Bowie Town Grille for nine years where she’s worked countless birthday parties, anniversary parties, Christmas parties, and even weddings. Isherwood says that because of Thompson’s great ‘heart’ during the pandemic, the staff has been able to stay together and work as one team, harder than ever before.
“Theresa is such a positive person,” Isherwood said. “When some of us are down about the pandemic Theresa always says, ‘It will all work out.’ Because of her positive vibe, many people want to support her even through these tough times.”
Thompson says her business has been focused on creating an atmosphere where all are welcome. “We’ve been open for 14 years and our staff always treats people like family,” she explains. “Just trying to make people feel like they're at home and let them know they’re not just a number, they’re not just someone we are waiting on. We try to get to know the people we serve.”
Katie Umstead, another Old Bowie Town Grille staff member, says that without their customers, the restaurant wouldn’t have been open today. “We are truly lucky to have the loyalty of customers and the community at this time. Without their help and support, I’m uncertain how well we would have survived,” Umstead said.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced a plan starting March 12 to lift capacity limits on outdoor and indoor dining, stating that outdoor and indoor venues can operate at 50% capacity. The Old Bowie Town Grille will reopen its popular outdoor music venue where top local music acts will again be allowed to perform—so long as social distancing, mask wearing and other COVID protocols are followed.
With things slowly getting back to normal, Thompson still feels that it is up to her and her staff to continue to bring people together through the family atmosphere the Old Bowie Town Grille provides.
“I believe because of this pandemic, people have looked at themselves and realized life isn’t a rat race, and I have seen a lot of people coming together which is something America needed,” Thompson said. “I see a change in people—and it needed to happen.”