Dive Bar owner Karen Geotz strives to greet each customer with a welcoming hello and wave. Before the pandemic, it would have been a hug, she said.
The bar and restaurant, located on Columbia’s Business Loop, regularly gives away food to essential workers at restaurants and other businesses, Geotz said. Dive Bar makes sure customers feel safe and happy, she said, whether that means ensuring customers know they’re more than a table number, or buying Ubers for patrons who drink too much to make sure they get home safely.
Dive Bar is being honored with one of the inaugural Kindness in Business awards in the Kindness to the Community category. The awards recognize businesses and organizations that have shown and promoted kindness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The establishment, which opened in 2017, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as traditional and innovative cocktails. Its back patio surrounds a sand court, which used to house sand volleyball nets prior to social distancing. Geotz and her spouse, Jeff Nichols, plan to open a second location in Jefferson City soon.
While providing meals to many essential workers when the pandemic hit, Geotz saw a need for certain groceries and household essentials — particularly toilet paper — and a lack of them in most stores. As a way to keep her doors open and the bar’s 14 employees working, she transformed the indoor portion of Dive Bar into a grocery store. It sold essentials such as milk, bread, potatoes, soup, liquor and the highly sought-after toilet paper.
Geotz spoke with Missouri Business Alert about Dive Bar and its approach to the pandemic. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Missouri Business Alert: How does Dive Bar try to embody kindness?
Karen Geotz: I don’t think that contributions necessarily equate to kindness. I can give money to anybody. And we can and we do, but I don’t think that equates to kindness. What equates to kindness is when you walk in here, you feel welcome. Even the grumpiest people, it’s like our job to make them smile when they leave. You know, whether they’re coming in and having iced tea or orange juice and an omelet, or they’re having dinner, or they’re actually drinking cocktails, your job is to make them feel happy. That’s what we do.
I mean, one of the things I do is I give food away a lot to businesses. It’s such a morale booster for people when they can have breakfast or lunch. I’ll meet people out and about, and we reach out, and we’ll just send lunch or breakfast to those places, just because they’re nice people and you meet them. It’s kind of like when you’re in Starbucks, and they pay it forward. And then you just keep the train going, or you leave the quarter in the cart at Aldi. That’s my philosophy. We like to continue to pay those things forward.
MBA: What inspires you to do these acts of kindness and strive for excellent customer service?
KG: It’s more about how I want to be treated when I go to a bar, and I go to a restaurant. I hate when I go somewhere and I am treated like a number. It’s like, people don’t care if you’re there or not. I don’t like that feeling. But on the other side of it, I want to treat people how I want to be treated.
MBA: What has Dive Bar learned from the pandemic?
KG: I actually had a friend who told me this before the pandemic. When we opened our doors, he said, “Let your customers tell you what they need, and listen.” And it’s not like someone’s going to come up and physically tell me what they need. But you have to be able to read the cues on what is needed. And listen. And the same thing with the pandemic. The thing that we have learned is, you make the best of it. You figure out cherries have pits in them, but they still taste great.
We’ve been blessed. It’s my team. I mean, it’s not me behind that bar. Our success is really their success.