OWENSBORO, Ky. — As Kentucky bars and restaurants welcome customers back Monday for indoor dining, their future remains largely uncertain. 

“Stressful” doesn’t begin to describe the weight of the pandemic on Kentucky’s restaurant industry. Patrick Bosley, co-owner of Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn in Owensboro, loses sleep over it. 

“The hardest thing is just the inability to make decisions not knowing what’s going to happen,” Bosley said. “It keeps me up at night. Not just for my family business but for the employees who work for me.”

Bosley employs more than 100 workers, many of whom have been there for years. He’s had to lay off around 30 so far — something he never thought he’d have to do at Moonlite, a business rooted in family and tradition. 

Moonlite Bar-B-Q has been in the Bosley family since 1963. What started as a 30-seat roadside diner is now a 350-seat restaurant destination — complete with carry-out service, a successful catering company, and a wholesale division. That is until the pandemic brought this booming business to a screeching halt. 

“The uncertainty is the hardest part of this. The uncertainty from the government, the uncertainty from the rules and regulations and uncertainty of how long it’s going to last,” Bosley explained. “Moonlite stays open by borrowed money right now and so that is not a sustainable model in the long run.” 

Bosley said revenue is down 80 percent. Facing the whiplash of shutdowns, capacity reductions, and travel restrictions, Moonlite has lost millions in just over nine months. Nearly every aspect of the business has been affected. 

As a tourist destination, with 50 percent of their business coming from outside Owensboro, they’ve lost half their business from people staying at home. Event cancellations shuttered their catering business, and the shutdowns took away the dining experience that made them famous. 

“I like to say we’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat. So, every restaurant is facing a unique challenge,” Bosley said. “It’s just a challenge. You know, if you shut down a core part of your business you have to decide — Can you stay in business? Do you want to stay in business? And is it worth staying in business? And for us, the answer is it’s definitely worth staying in business, and we’re gonna figure out how to stay in business.”

Moonlite is constantly making changes to survive, perhaps most noticeably in their carry-out offerings and buffet. Before the pandemic, the restaurant’s takeout was primarily party trays and events. Now they’re selling more plate dinners and family package deals. And, as Moonlite reopens to indoor dining Monday, their famous buffet will be run by attendants instead of self-served. 

“Our mantra has been, since this pandemic started, what we’re doing on Monday might not be what we’re doing on Tuesday. You have to be fluid. You have to be willing to change,” Bosley said. 

Changing a business model that’s worked since 1963 isn’t easy. Bosley said Moonlite will be OK, but he doesn’t expect things to get better or back to “normal” for quite some time. He fears many restaurants won’t make it. 

“Restaurants have to figure out how to survive for the next one to two years, and then they’re going to have a huge debt to pay back,” Bosley said. “Businesses like Moonlite will stay in business. We will be here. We’ll figure out how to adapt and change and overcome. But there’s so many businesses that won’t that’s really heartbreaking.”

In addition to patronizing local restaurants, Bosley encourages folks to keep them in mind when crossing off their gift lists this holiday season. He said one of the best ways to support local businesses is to buy gift cards or certificates for the people on your holiday shopping list.