Ithaca's Sunset Grill vs. Covid

  • 02:00 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    Sunset Grill is a hot attraction on weekends in Ithaca, with lines routinely stretching into the adjoining parking lot and even to the end of the block. With the advent of Covid-19, Sunset Grill has tried its best to keep the gears turning.

  • 02:02 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    Manager Robert Quackenbush has been working at Sunset Grill for over nine years and described Covid-19's impact on the business as nothing short of terrifying. “We didn’t get back into a positive bank account until October, so the whole time, it was terrifying,” Quackenbush said.

  • 02:07 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    On a busy pre-covid day, Sunset saw almost 600 people come through their doors every day on the weekends. “Our record since Covid was Cornell Parents’ Weekend and that was 512,” Quackenbush said. “That’s still 120 less than our previous record.”

  • 02:09 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    Covid, devastated Sunset back in 2020 because they had to close during May, their busiest month, Quackenbush said.

  • 02:09 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    “It chokes me up, because we couldn’t do it without every single person here, and we made it through covid,” Quackenbush said, fighting back tears.

  • 02:11 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    When Sunset was finally able to reopen in June, they had to do outdoor dining only, with social distancing, greatly reducing the number of customers they could serve at a given time.

  • 02:12 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    Even when indoor dining returned, half of the restaurant was closed for sanitization stations and half of the remaining seats were closed off for social distancing purposes.

  • 02:12 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    “We didn’t get back into a positive bank account until October, so the whole time, it was terrifying,” Quackenbush said.

  • 02:15 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    The slow days where Sunset would only get 20 take-out orders a day showed how important their dining room was to customers. “You really can’t take eggs to go,” Quackenbush said. “It’s different having it straight off the pan."

  • 02:17 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    These slow days stood in stark contrast to their busy days as Quackenbush reminisced. "From 10 to 2 that day ,we had 450 or so people come in.” Quackenbush said. “ If you think about it, every 17 seconds a plate was going out the window.”

  • 02:19 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    While weekends are a busy time for Sunset, they have regulars which come in every day and who the staff know on a first name basis, Quackenbush said. Unfortunately, they lost several customers to Covid-19 and many no longer eat in person.

  • 02:30 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    Moving out of Covid, Quackenbush was happy that all of his original staff returned. “Everybody that works here is awesome and that’s what makes people come back,” Quackenbush said. “And the food, obviously.”

  • 02:31 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    Something that surprises Quackenbush to this day is that most of the students which come to Sunset are Cornell University students, not Ithaca College students. “The entrance [to Ithaca College] is literally across the street!” Quackenbush exclaimed.

  • 02:34 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    The recent changes to Ithaca College's dining services have not affected student turnout at Sunset. These changes include the departure from Sodexo, a food service provider, and the decreased food selection on weekends.

  • 02:37 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    Ithaca College senior Jackson Becker said that he does not go to Sunset Grill often, but when he does, he has a good time. "The food was pretty good and it's a convenient place to get food off-campus that doesn't require a car," Becker said.

  • 02:39 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    Becker said that he was a big fan of their buffalo chicken wings last time he went.

  • 02:49 PM ET - 11/20/2021
    Picture of Alex Hartzog

    Covid-19 could not stop Sunset Grill. Quackenbush and his team are looking forward to serving the Ithaca community for the foreseeable future.