ELKTON — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that all the restaurants, taverns and cafes in Cecil County are able to do business, but a new county tourism contest has a creative approach to make things fun.

While still considered "essential" per Monday's executive order from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, these eateries are struggling to stay afloat in the new normal of take-out, drive-thru and delivery. 

Cecil County Tourism has launched the "Cecil Eats" contest to encourage people to patronize their favorite place.

Sandy Turner, director of Cecil County Tourism, said the idea came during a brainstorming session, looking for ways to support the many eateries in the county.

Go to the Cecil County Tourism Facebook page, like the page and share the Cecil Eats post. Then, for your chance to win $100 in gift cards from restaurants and other county tourism locales, save the receipt from your recent meal and post it to that FB page tagged with #CecilEats.

The photo of the receipt must show the date of purchase along with the name of the restaurant. Restaurants are thrilled with the contest.

Selena Morrison-Chin, head bartender and interim assistant manager at Prime 225 in Chesapeake City applauds the effort and reports the restaurant -- known for its steaks and other fine dining -- is doing well in spite of the pandemic.

"We are keeping afloat," Morrison-Chin said Tuesday. "We got enough take out orders and hefty pick-up orders."

In Port Deposit, Jason Usilton, owner of Granite Run Taproom, said he and his staff are getting acquainted with the take-out system.

"We weren't doing that much carry-out or take-out," Usilton said of the South Main Street restaurant and bar he just opened at the end of 2019. "We're making 50 to 60% less revenue compared to when our customers could come inside."

Last week Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the closing of several aspects of business, and continued tiering down this week to include "non-essential" businesses such as salons and barbershops. However it was ruled that restaurants could remain in business but with take out,, carry out or drive thru service only.  Per Centers for Disease Control guidelines, no gatherings of 10 or more are allowed in Maryland. Malls, entertainment centers, horse racing facilities and theaters were ordered closed. Almost all government offices are operating remotely as are other businesses deemed essential.

Restaurants across the county jumped into the new normal with different menus and operating hours.  Prime 225 is among them.

The menu has been modified somewhat, focusing on what ingredients are already in house. However many of the favorite steaks are on that limited menu and the family meals are becoming popular. 

"Wednesday we'll have a chicken pot pie, Thursday is southern style chicken and dumplings and Friday is country fried chicken," she said.  Prime 225 delivers within a 15-mile radius of the restaurant at 225 Bohemia Avenue. Anything over 10 miles there's a $5 delivery charge. Call 410-885-7009 to order.

"Call a half hour before you want to pick up," she said. Prime 225 is also offering bottles of wine and liquor and will soon have cocktails to go.

Usilton is also selling adult beverages to go including domestic brew, growler fills and coming soon, mixed drinks.

At Granite Run Taproom they are also serving from a limited menu to reduce waste.

"But we're getting creative with our menu," he hinted. "We were getting ready to change a little for spring and summer so we'll be trying some new things."

Once he can catch his breath, he hopes to connect with local farmers to get a reliable supply of fresh vegetables.

Prime 225 will be adding some less-expensive entrees and snacks, Morrison-Chin said.

Turner said this first round of Cecil Eats ends March 27 and will be decided over the weekend. A second run begins next week.

"If it's popular we'll consider continuing it," Turner said. "It encourages food purchases at local restaurants that are doing take-out and delivery and it incentivizes those purchases, as people have a chance to win $100 in gift cards to Cecil restaurants and tourism businesses.  It’s a way to create a cycle of support between our office, the local tourism industry, and people."

Turner said some of the gift cards will likely come from businesses that are currently closed because of the shut-down of non-essential businesses.

"But the gift cards can be used in the future," she said.

Granite Run Taproom is introducing its customers to a new electronic gift card system.

"It's neat because you can write a message to go with it when you send it," Usilton said. "Or you can save it for a specific day. There's no actual card. You get it delivered to email or to your phone."

He also discovered that the 50 t-shirts ordered for his staff sold quickly, with the money going to the staff to make up for some of that lost revenue. He only has about 10 left thanks to brisk weekend sales.

Call 443-747-4015 to order. You can find the menu on their Facebook page. His daily hours are 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and 11-7 on weekends for now. Customers can also walk up and order since the food is prepared with relative speed however he has to remain mindful of the edict to keep the in house gathering below 10 people.

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