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Q&A: Owner of Dog Central reflects on running business amid COVID-19


Dog Central worker and Commerce senior Dominic Pyrros hands food to a customer on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020. He said a challenge working under the COVID-19 pandemic is enforcing mask policies. “You have to lay down the law because it is the law,” he said. 

Similar to most small businesses across the country, Dog Central has adjusted its operations to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. 

These adjustments include requiring customers to wear masks and regularly cleaning high touch areas. Dog Central has also implemented take-out-only after 10 p.m. 

Owner Paul McFall took to Facebook on Sep. 29 to express some concerns he's had since opening. In the post, he discussed issues stemming from customers’ behaviors not wearing masks. For Dog Central, its mask requirement will reflect what the health department recommends. 

“The health department has made it pretty clear that they’re going to still recommend masks after the governor’s orders have run out,” McFall said. “I will definitely be doing whatever the health department recommends.”

Despite the occasional upset customer, McFall said 99 percent of customers follow the rules set in place at Dog Central. 

Central Michigan Life spoke with McFall about his experience running a business during COVID-19. 

How has operating Dog Central been since COVID-19?

We are used to a big student rush in the fall and that’s definitely where business thrives. We’ve had our moments during Thursday and Saturday nights where we have been busy, but it's just a shade of what it used to be before COVID. We haven’t noticed it so much during our lunch and dinner. Our lunch and dinner are primarily locals and people that are working downtown and stuff like that so that didn’t really change that much for us throughout COVID. Our late nights have definitely changed a lot. 

What kind of rules are you setting in Dog Central to follow COVID-19 guidelines?

Of course, everybody is wearing masks. Of course everybody is always wearing gloves. I do have a third party cleaning service that comes in every day. We have been doing that for years just to help turn our business around after a very busy late-night. (We have been implementing) staff protocol in terms of wiping down our iPad tablets, wiping down the front door handle and things that are going to be commonly touched by customers coming in. We are take-out only after 10 p.m. That’s one thing we have been doing lately with our late-night service. It really allows us to accomplish social distancing while actually being able to (get people) through the door.

Do you have any experiences you can share to shed light on what Dog Central is facing when people are unwilling to follow your rules? 

I had a couple come in who both insisted that they were medically unable to wear masks. They had a lanyard around their necks like something you would see if you had sideline seats at a stadium. The big lanyard said "can’t mask, don’t ask." We just made our decision, as a business, that we’re not going to sit here and discuss medical issues or politics - that’s not what we are here for. We’re hot dog people - we’re not politicians or doctors.
We can serve you outside and take your order outside (if you choose to not wear a mask). Most people are very courteous and say that it works fine for them as a remedy. There have been several who have said "No."

What are you noticing when it comes to certain age groups of customers? Are students following COVID-19 rules? 

I have not one single issue at night – after 9 p.m. every single college kid who walks through the door has got a mask on. If  they don’t, then the security guy who is there has reminded them and they’re more than happy to put it on. We have not had one issue. I can’t speak to other bars downtown, but at Dog Central I have not had one issue at all with college kids saying anything about masks.

What's in your future as you navigate COVID-19? 
In the first few weeks of the semester, there were a couple of Thursday nights where I drove downtown at 8 or 9 p.m. and you could have parked anywhere in the entire downtown are. It was like a ghost town.
I can tell you that our last three weekends have been trending upwards. I can just feel it - there are more people walking around downtown.