COVID-19: Jackie Walther of The Square Meal

Recorded May 6, 2020 Archived May 6, 2020 34:24 minutes
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Id: APP2260030


Jackie Walther and Jackie Neale talk about some of the unexpected outcomes of the coronavirus global pandemic. Jackie and her husband Dan own a short-order, take-out restaurant called The Square Meal in Oaklyn, NJ and on the heels of discussing a possibility of having an exit strategy the quarantine rules actually turned the tides of their business. Jackie tells us how the silver-lining for her comes from learning from her teachers and mentors and she is currently learning through experience now, " just adaptability, and fluidity. And being able to go with the flow in in times like this, and not like fight against it, or, you know, be so still and let it snap you in half. Find a way keep creating, and work with what's happening."


  • Jackie Walther
  • jackiephoto

Interview By



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00:01 Hi, this is Jackie Neal. I'm continuing my interviews for the corona. Clap. Did. I'm here with my participant. Can you tell me your name? My name is Jackie Walther.

00:14 Hi Jackie. Thanks for being here. Thank you for having me. So what's today's date today, is May 5th. 2020. And where are you located? Well, our business is located at 211, West Clinton Ave Oaklyn, New Jersey, and that's in Camden County.

00:36 Okay, thank you. How do we know each other? Can you tell everybody how we know each other?

00:41 Well, we met at the local coffee shop in Collingswood and have both have a lot of mutual friends and you actually took me to my first surfing lesson years ago. I remember to the day and I was actually the only time I ever went surfing and I'm hoping we can do that again. It should be a great summer to do that. Yeah, I just it just clicked why you said that? Yeah, so that brings me to why we're here. We're having this interview were conducting. I'm stuck in this interview with my students from the New York Film Academy. I'm currently we're in the middle of a global epidemic where there is a coronavirus called the covid-19 that has basically shut down the entire world and United States has been on pause as they say.

01:41 We are currently located in New Jersey, but New York, New Jersey, Connecticut. We're all basically given a stay-at-home order. And so this interview is part of the collective where me and my students are interviewing people to talk about their experience during this time. So thanks for being here. I really appreciate that. You're going to contribute. I'm so I was just wondering, do you happen to know anyone that has been diagnosed with covid-19?

02:14 Yeah, I do my friends parents.

02:21 So my friend to her, both cousins, their grandma was diagnosed and

02:29 Parents of one of their one of my friends. So the grand mom's daughter and her husband, they were both diagnosed because the grandmother was released from a rehabilitation facility and had went home to her daughter's house. So they both got it, my friends parents and then my other friend who's cousins with this sad friend, his parents contracted it, because they didn't realize that,

03:08 Grand mom, had it and then going over to visit. And so now they all had they'll have it. But the two that are the parents of my friends do, the two that are like in their 60s or outside. The two couples that are in their sixties, they're recovering and they're actually doing pretty well, but the grandmother is not doing so good. Now, is she in the hospital? Know she's still at home with my one friends parents.

03:40 Is she just showing signs of sickness or is she like in hospice or something? So she's not really. I I just know this cuz I spoke with my one friend today and ask them and so she's like really weak but she's not on a vent or anything. Not that. I know of but she wasn't very strong before this. That's why she was in the rehabilitation center.

04:13 Could you was in the hospital for, like, a few weeks, or a month, maybe before Christmas? And then went to the rehabilitation center and that Center actually sent her home, knowing that there was a Corona outbreak, in the facility was just crazy in the rehab facility. And how long ago was that? Probably like,

04:40 Three weeks to a month ago. No, so they didn't release her.

04:45 When we all have a stay-at-home instead, well, yeah because I mean I think it's worth mentioning on the record that we're finding that a lot of nursing homes are these rehab. Facilities are basically breeding grounds for the coronavirus and many of the deaths that are happening in both New York and New Jersey tend to be people who are living in these Close Quarters.

05:14 It's just like, this is like, you know, we'll have to say that you're one of the first friends that I am interviewing without having seen you in such a long time. It's like, I almost want to die with you about like, wow, how crazy this was all been in. Like, you know what, how it's all changed in the last 2 months, and everything like just symptom wise and what we're supposed to live for aside from the fact that we're going to talk about your, you know, your personal life and your business and stuff. But oh my gosh, that's really scary. How do you feel about that? Are you, like, you feel scared, like you feel, you'll be in their company at any time. And so when I first and I was like, oh my God, when's the last time I was around him and was he at his parents house? Cuz he actually lives there and but apparently he wasn't staying there.

06:13 So yes, all this thoughts, you know, like will want, you know, when was I in contact with him and

06:23 Could I have it? Who was Iran? Who could I have given it to? So yeah, all that. Yeah. I mean, did you just put hand sanitizer on just to wash my hands. Feel like, I'm constantly don't like all know the whole thing's been contaminated.

06:53 Lake everything. Oh my God. I like allergies are bad. So I'm sneezing, like crazy and it's like, yeah. Yeah, it's very hard to not be paranoid about it. So what is like, what do you, what is your greatest fear of like during this time and about the coronavirus? And that someone in my family is going to get it. You know, my mom. My mom still goes to work everyday.

07:24 And she she's 67-68 and her boyfriend, he's 82 and he's he's kind of hard headed and stubborn and you know, going out and about not wearing masks unless he has to in order to go in the store, but he's a call as soon as you know, so my fear is that. Yeah, one of them are going to get it.

07:54 Or someone, you know it anyone I know and love or that it's just going to keep cycling and spiking and not people aren't taking a precaution. So she's going to keep going on and on like cycle.

08:10 Yeah, it's kind of a theory. I have to.

08:16 How is this affecting you emotionally?

08:19 So emotionally.

08:23 I don't know. It's hard to say. I mean, I guess most of it's probably subconscious. Like I'm not getting service emotions that I can attribute to the coronavirus, but I definitely feel difference in my body. Like I noticed that my breathing is much more shallow since this whole thing started and

08:50 Tight like I tested and and I'm like my wonder if it's like stress from that, you know, I'm not able to like relax and put my breath in and just so I definitely have the stress but it's not like in the Forefront of my mind, but it's in my body.

09:10 Yeah, cuz you do a lot of yoga and you know, like you do meditation to a kind of well. Yeah, I do, but I don't do it as much as I should. You know, I in the morning time I go into my little space that I have and I journal and I sit for a few minutes and work on my breath, but I really, I need to be sitting longer. I know I do.

09:36 Are you able to practice yoga while? And how is that? Is that when you're saying the breathing? Like, I actually noticed the breathing, like, when I'm sitting in relaxing, watching TV or driving. I don't notice it as much when I'm doing my day today, cuz I'm still busy and working, but when I am practicing yoga, I'm pretty good with the breathing. Like I'm holding it in, and I'm able to practice most days in the morning. I see, I'm like, more of a physical person. So I'm more motivated to get up and do my yoga to workout. Then I am to get up and spit cuz then, I just start thinking like,

10:22 You know, including working out or doing my physical yoga. So it's hard to even like find a moment to meditate and stuff. So that actually leads to a great question, which is do you ever get bored? How do you entertain yourself?

10:41 Well, I entertain Myself by.

10:46 Going on social media, which is kind of like an addiction. So I don't know which is awesome. I love that my friends and I met up socially distant, you know, we met each other at the the park and she, she brought me a bike to borrow cuz she has like all the gear and everything. So yeah, that was cool. Just be out there in the woods present, my dogs entertain me. I love hanging out with them and husband and doing workouts online, doing yoga and then working. I'm so thankful be working every day because that's really

11:33 Where I thrive?

11:37 Yeah, that's the truth. Will, then that leaves me to the next question which is how has this affected your business.

11:43 So at first, this affecting our business because by

11:50 All right, before we went on quarantine our business, got really slow and I think people were afraid to.

11:59 Eat out or trust being out in public, you know, which can you tell me what your business is? Our business is called the square meal, and it's a small.

12:13 Food establishment that focuses on locally sourced Foods, organic foods and do a lot of vegan options, gluten-free options. So just like real food made with real ingredients and it's very casual short order. So it's cool. I mean, I love what we do. I love our concept but we noticed a dip before we went under quarantine and then when we went on quarantine and they shut down all sit down, sitting down and restaurants in, I was just open to take out. Then we started getting busier because people were, I guess there were less options. Unfortunately for these other businesses that rely on their seating like diners and Barge, you know, unfortunately for them, they didn't have the business but then our Scott more busy because people are looking for places with Tikal.

13:13 You are already set up for that. We are already set up for online ordering. So it made it easy for people to order online pay online.

13:22 And then,

13:25 Yeah, and then my husband and I are we talked about doing groceries and, you know, it's kind of like, you know, that we really want to do that that that that seems like a lot to tackle. I don't know if we can handle it. This and that. And then there was there's this one distributor that we order from on the regular. And so we're so small that we order from them. We get our deli meats that are like non-GMO and antibiotic-free and everything and do other things from them, but we don't order enough to get a delivery. We go down and pick it up.

14:05 But they stopped doing pick-ups. So we weren't able to get our hands and our turkey and a couple other things that we were yet, so it was kind of out of necessity for our business and out of necessity out of the community need that we were saying, so we were like, alright. Well, we're going to have to make our order big enough to get the delivery. So before we went ahead and did that if you needed to order like $750 worth of stop in like, when I tell you, that's a big deal for our little business. So of course I said, alright, let's try to sell some things that we have in the shop and see if people are going to want to buy them. So we we have chicken that we get from our other supplies in Berlin, and that's like, really good quality chicken. And so, I think we were selling chicken and like some local produce that we get from a local store.

15:05 And we sold out of that, like, the first day that we announced that we were selling it to the people. And so we and we had more inquiries on like Dan. I think it's safe to say that we can go ahead and get a big order from Albert. You know, let's get some grass-fed beef. Let's get some big, and let's get some organic Dairy and let's, let's do it. So, we did and I just I've been using Facebook and posting out the list and we've actually doubled our sales like more than double our sales since we've been doing that.

15:41 Wow, that's amazing. Y'all weekly sales have doubled. I mean, of course, our purchasing tire, but we've scaled back. We only have me and Dan mostly doing all the work and then we have like a couple kids helping us short amount of time. But yeah, so we're actually improving the Financial Health of our business and paying down from Dad. And yeah, and I'm telling you, like, before all this happened, we were actually talking about when we are going to throw. I mean, you know, used to have some but I just thought that you guys were doing really well. Everybody thought that coronavirus, but I'm thinking like after this all look like, well, I don't know if you can blow or whatever, after we go back to female.

16:40 Do life as normal, maybe people will want to continue to buy that Quality Meats from us and the organic Dairy and the local produce because we are sourcing from some really good sources and people can trust it.

16:59 I wouldn't doubt that that would be true. It was interesting in the interview. I had with Joe from Haddon culinary. He was saying that while he's happy to do that now, he's hoping that that's not what you like people who won't start to go to their store for groceries because they really want to be just forwarded an interesting thing. If you don't really want to do it forever. Yeah, they're contacts different. You know, they are Chef for me and Dan are more like

17:33 Oh, no, I mean, either one of us were ever trained in the kitchen. We learn how to cook and do that stuff. Just from like coming from big family. And when we first started developing the business Square meal stand,

17:51 Concept was more like to have a market. So now we're thinking, we'll what if we change this, even if we do like a tagline, like the square meal and general store, or something, like old timey like that. You know, I like ya, ya Farm Pantry. Like a totally. Totally. Yeah. It's I think it's useful to have a for me. And I know that, you know, this already, it's like I have a corner store that you can run out and get everything you need to make dinner. That night is invaluable to me. Yeah. I know that a lot of people are going to feel that way especially after all that we had to reconfigure in our lives. Now, you know what I mean? So actually, I kind of think it'll be useful to kind of, like, talk about that like,

18:42 Why do you think? I don't know that we know the answer this question. Could you explain as to why people are turning towards to your store to get groceries rather than normal places like supermarkets.

18:57 I think people are turning to places like our store rather than going to a supermarket for many reasons one. They know that quality is important to their house and now is the time to do, take measures to become more healthy. To people realize how important small businesses are to their Community, because they seen so many being shut down so many that are not

19:27 Maybe not going to be able to bounce back from this, you know, and 3 because

19:38 So what the hell, the small business and

19:43 Because they know, they know, they know where we're sourcing and there's less less hands on it. I mean, you aren't picking through people love that. I like my repeat customers with the grocery order. They love that. I remember them and I'm like, oh, yeah, how'd you like that? You know, it's like it's going back to the old time and I'm packing up and bagging it up there, picking it up, and it's more of a personal interaction. But yeah, the last hands touching it. Less people left trials, more personalized, fuel station to them.

20:17 Totally. Yeah, I think I said to my friend the other day, where it's going back to Little House on the Prairie, kids can go to school, you know, they go to the store and there's like so many, they're picking up all the food for them and putting it in a bag, you know, but I think it I think it's worth also mentioning that like nut less hands on it, but not only that like when you are handling the food from the distributor

20:51 To the bag for your, you know, like your customer. It's like, you have gloves on. Everybody knows that you're like you're everything sanitary. Like if you're healthy, and that means everything that got some is healthy, all that. And then the other thing that I want to put into this recording is, is that I still have not been able to reliably purchase saying that I need to make food like that. I feel like I've took a lot and I cook with like fresh vegetables. Fresh needs fresh fruit and like

21:29 And flower, I haven't, I'd like, I just recently found flour at Mom's Organic and Mom's Organic had to buy bulk and put it in the bag.

21:38 Because they can't get like the regular flour. So I've had trouble finding stuff. So going to places like yours. It's like it makes sense. When you started to do it. I had just gotten back from the trip. Like I literally did. And I've been working my way through all the food and take me a couple weeks since it's just me, but like, I'm looking at your listing on making a new list and it's interesting, you know, people told me that they couldn't find flower. So we're like, okay. Well, that's order 250 lb bags and then we're weighing it out and buying it, just like you said, moms is doing and used to. I can't find you. I can't find you. Yeah. Yeah. That's what I want people to tell me. Like, what can you not get? Let me see if I can get it because other people probably need it.

22:33 Yeah, it's true.

22:36 Yeah, and I mean like the whole the meat that you're selling is really important to me as well. You know, like I just I won't buy it from the supermarket. I just won't. Yeah. Okay, so I could go on and on with you about the stuff. I'm sorry, Yakety Yak. So I'm glad that you're happy that it's, you know, the reconfiguring of your business that might be really beneficial. It's kind of like, it's interesting because I feel like a lot of people or seeing like a silver lining. I don't want to just get to that question yet because I have a couple other ones for you. But so, do you find that this is affecting any of your relationships, like with your family, or your spouse, or your partner or your friends?

23:27 Yeah, so it's improving my relationship with some friends because like some local friends.

23:39 Can we make make time to like mountain bike, you know and and know that we can social distance or you know, you're riding by and we're on our porch. So maybe haven't been making time like that before. We've been quarantined. Everybody's got their own lives and their own obligations to meet as far as my spell. My husband. Yeah, we're together all the time. Redoing our business into the grocery business. It

24:13 We're doing it mostly with these, but at some point it feels like the same stress that it felt like 5 years ago when we were starting to plan Square meal. It's like all new and and and I'm a controlling person. So

24:31 I'm like, bossing people around like Boston, Dan around Boston people that are helping us in the restaurant around. So yeah, I'm kind of like a little bit high-strung and it might be affecting my relationship, but they all love me and I apologize and praise him and beg for free.

24:54 But now we're cool and everyone else is good. I mean, you know, my friends, we've done like Zoom chats and I talked to my mom almost everyday, talk to Dan's mom, pretty Austin. My sister. I talked to her a lot. So we're solid. That's good. And I left to do to pull me away. So I just want to check on my loved one and my friends.

25:24 Is there anything that you missed doing?

25:27 Yeah, something I'm is doing.

25:32 We have used to go to the winery at like, at least once a month. We will go down to almost a winery. And I just love doing that. And now, it just felt like it work. We're just in a little French, Chateau somewhere far away. And I will, I miss that by we go down there and pick up line cuz you like to drink local, but it's like curbside pickup. There's the fire pit, you know, and I miss going and hanging out with my family and my friends. I miss going to revolucion coffee after practicing yoga and miss going to the gym, my gosh and I miss going to tonewood after work, you know, grab a quick beer, going to the brewery. So, yeah, there's a lot that I miss.

26:24 They're really good head.

26:27 I know, I miss it too. When I drove over to you I drove past on with it and I'm like

26:41 I forget, I just remember, like

26:46 You know, if you listen to NPR in the morning on your way to work, right? Like I wish I would have those doing on my way to the train in New York at 5 in the morning. Like I knew that this all was happening like a month before it all happened. So eventually like I kind of just like, would breathe through the market and get it a little extra toilet paper or you don't like. And then all the sudden I heard over the news that Pennsylvania had closed the state stores. I immediately and I need all the beer drinking like nothing happening. I was like, I'm just getting a little sneaky and get all my dear little by little. I mean, I don't drink a lot but like lately, I've been working in the garden. I have my beer and I got, I just can't wait to go back and

27:43 And get more or just sit with my friends. Anyway, so I have a lot of people have been bringing up in a lot of the interviews saving saying that they have appreciated the times of themselves to be able to sort of like to reconnect with their you know, like interest in music and which is interesting. And I'm just wondering if you've been listening to any music that like have you learned of any new bands or is there any music that you listen to more than you were able to before or

28:23 Have I been listening to any music? I don't know. That's hard to say. Like we listen to an hour and I'm like, who is this the Grateful Dead in 5 minutes?

28:48 Theme song Jack. I'm like,

28:52 No wonder you thought I was. But yeah, we listen to a lot of cool different. Very playlist on Pandora and Spotify. So we're always like listening to new stuff that pops up as related to other stuff. Yeah, I guess is a benefit of owning your own business. You can turn up the radio and listen to whatever you want. Always listen to music. It's awesome. It really is, you have to watch it.

29:31 It's the John Cusack and he owns a record store and he said, like there's all these like

29:37 The typical characters that used to work in a record stores and they would all have these like weird little battles. And and John Cusack turns to all of his employees and he says, I'm now going to proceed. So three copies of the beta band and he plays the state of band song, and he turns it up and like they show, they Panther at the store and everybody's head, just go like this. And then they're like, and it's like I like my brother, my sister. And my, and my best friend. We all used to work down the shore together on the boardwalk. And we used to just have playlist, that would encourage people to buy that we love, but it was like it kept them in the store and then suddenly they were like, oh, yeah, I want to buy this or I want to chit chat with you like generate sells. And that's how I feel when I'm in your place. Like I never want to leave cuz the music and then eventually I'm just sort of like I got to leave them alone.

30:37 We're about to close.

30:44 Man, but anyway owning your own business, really let you listen to whatever you want. Okay, so

30:54 You know, do you envision a silver lining and what would it be?

30:59 Well, I might the Silver Lining that I Envision is, I think, you know, I'm already explained it for our business that. Hey, maybe after this, after the quarantine is lifted, people still want to shop small. And by at least they're their meats and there are local produce and their Dairy and eggs from us. Hey, that can help us off that are cost of goods and help us continue the Financial Health of our business. So maybe we don't have to plan the exit strategy that we've been talking about, you know, because I do feel like our business is more of a. It's a, it's a value based business and it's it's calling Ferdinand II and it's

31:49 It's it's really service to the community, you know, it adds value and we have integrity and we believe in what we're doing. So if we can continue to do it and hey, maybe even put a little money in our pockets that be awesome. Cuz you know, I react to pay the bills for me doing real estate. That's how we like literally pay the bills but the square meal is like a labor of love. That is fun. And and I'm and I love it.

32:22 That's awesome. So, okay, given up this recording is going to be uploaded to the Library of Congress. Is there anything you want to say to me or the world or have on record?

32:39 So something that I want to say something that I learned from teachers and mentors and that I'm learning through experience, now is just adaptability and, and fluidity and being able to go with the flow and in times like this and not like fight against it or you. No. Be so still and let it snap you in half, like, find a way to

33:12 To recreate and and work with what's happening.

33:19 That's awesome.

33:21 Well, thanks Jackie. I really appreciate it. So I can't wait to let my students listen to this. I think this is an uplifting interview for them. Okay. Thank you. Thank you guys for doing this project is awesome. Thank you.

33:46 Hi, this is Jackie Neal. I'm continuing my interviews for the corona, Kohl active. I'm here with my interviewee and I'm going to ask, what's your name?

34:00 My name is Jack. My name is Jackie Walther.

34:06 My farts are spent so cute.

34:20 I wasn't sure if it was my turn to talk yet.