DURANT - Located in downtown Durant for over 15 years, Roma Italian Restaurant continues to provide meals for area residents and others during the COVID-19 pandemic.


“You know, the profits aren't important at this time. It’s not about the profits,” Tony Iridom, one of the eatery’s owners, said. “At this time, it’s about having your employees on the payroll, letting everybody make a bit of money and keeping the families in the area happy.”


Restaurants throughout the state have closed their dining rooms and are now accepting only takeout or delivery orders in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus.


Count Roma Italian Restaurant among them.


The restaurant is currently working with its full-time staff, which includes servers and a full kitchen, and continues to offer its regular menu items - pasta dishes, salads, pizzas, sandwiches, lasagna and the like - as well as some specials via takeout and curbside pick-up.


It has also been selling basic essentials like flour, eggs and yeast to those in the community who are struggling the most.


“The people, they are in need, you know?” Iridom said. “Last week we sold 60 bags of different things to families. ... A lot of the food going out is for families and we are doing our best to make it affordable.


“We are also trying to do our best to keep the (restaurant) going as long as we are allowed to,” he said.


Meanwhile, executives at the Durant Area Chamber of Commerce have also been working hard.


Small businesses throughout Durant are being impacted in different ways by the pandemic, said Janet Reed, executive director of the chamber.


However, there are things being done to help relieve some of the stress on businesses like Roma Italian Restaurant.


Reed said the Small Business Association’s Paycheck Protection Plan “is one thing we have ... been waiting on.”


As part of the nearly $350 billion program, the SBA is providing 100 percent federally backed loans to small businesses to assist with payroll expenses.


Those loans may ultimately be forgiven if employers are able to retain employees at salary levels that are comparable to those prior to the coronavirus crisis.


The program also waives all associated SBA fees and loan payments may be deferred for up to a year.


“Hopefully that will help (business owners) immediately ... with any payroll expense, utilities, long-term debts and even rent. So, I am hoping it might be a way to help small businesses who are going to struggle as they reopen their doors,” Reed said.


However, “They do have to maintain their employees,” she explained. “Of course, as we all know, many of the small businesses owned by a single proprietor may not have a payroll. ... So, the hope is through rent or utilities, they will be able to recover some of the cost they have with that.”


Reed also said that there are potentially two other stimulus options on the way that may be able to soften the economic blow on small businesses in Durant and throughout Oklahoma.


Despite the lack of customers in Roma Italian Restaurant’s dining room, Iridom said he and his staff are working grueling hours. In some cases, they may have up to 60 to-go orders backed up and waiting in the kitchen.


They are cooking faster, more and with plenty of orders that require the servers to now hustle in and out of the front door instead of around the dining room.


“You know, it’s been hard,” Iridom said. “I have my kids at home and I've been working 16-, sometimes 18-hour shifts, so they are sleeping when I leave in the morning and then they are sleeping when I get home from work.


“We've been doing this ... system for two weeks now - only curbside pick-up orders,” he said. “These last two weeks have just been crazy. It’s been something to get used to and a lot of work, but worth it.”