This week, while 55 South and Cork & Cow in Franklin were closed due to an air conditioning issue, a 55 South Franklin employee tested positive for COVID-19, prompting further cautionary closures from the restaurants and mass staff testing before they can return to work.
Sharon Davis — the director of operations and development at the McConnell Hospitality Group, which owns 55 South, Cork & Cow, Red Pony and more — said that, since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak in Middle Tennessee, the hospitality group has erred on the side of caution.
"I feel really good about our safety practices," she said. "It's truly an abundance of caution. We're just really doing the best we can to make the right decisions of the time and then going from there."
Davis shared that the group closed all its restaurants 10 days before they had to according to government guidelines — "we saw the writing on the wall," she said — and furloughed its staff members, allowing them to apply for unemployment early in the game.
Upon the McConnell teams reopening their dining rooms in late May, Davis said they "painfully do everything by the book." This includes temperature checks, question-screening, and putting on masks before even entering the doors. The company has also told its employees that, if they are not feeling well for any reason, they should call their employers and not go into work.
On Friday, May 22, an asymptomatic worker passed the COVID-19 screening and completed a shift at 55 South Franklin but, upon returning home, felt sick and called work. Davis said that the employee was told to not come into work. The employee reported losing a sense of taste and smell on Sunday, and positive test results confirmed the virus on Tuesday.
Upon learning of the positive results, the McConnell group immediately called for a professional sanitization of both 55 South Franklin and Cork & Cow, which has been completed, and the team scheduled the same cleaning for all its other restaurants.
As the company was devising further plans, the air conditioning compressor at 55 South Franklin and Cork & Cow (the restaurants share a building) went out on Wednesday, and the restaurants had to close through Thursday. Management decided to require everyone in the company — at 55 South and elsewhere — to get tested for the virus out of caution and to close 55 South Franklin and Cork & Cow until Tuesday, June 2.
Davis said the air conditioning outage was a blessing in disguise because it is allowing the staff to regroup and get tested.
"No one will be permitted to come back into the building until they have a negative (test) result next week," Davis said.
She added that, because of the company's cautious measures, she is not too worried about the exposure of other staff members, particularly those working in other restaurants, but the team is continuing to operate out of "an abundance of caution."
"At this point, we've done everything in a way where we feel good about it," Davis said. "Even though there was a positive, we can't control what people do outside of the building. So, we know the risks are always there, but we're making them wear masks, we're temping them, we're doing everything we can.
"The reality is there's going to be more exposure as more people come in the building, and we're just trying to make calculated decisions now and then come up with some kind of plan for what the future looks like."
55 South Franklin and Cork & Cow will reopen Tuesday with COVID-19-negative staff members. While employees at all other restaurants are required to be tested, those restaurants, including Red Pony, will remain open.
In an unrelated incident, another local restaurant, Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant in Leiper's Fork, closed Wednesday due to potential exposure to an asymptomatic COVID-19 carrier and will reopen on Saturday.
For more information on the McConnell Hospitality Group, visit mcconnellhospitalitygroup.com.