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Struggling Trafalgar restaurant sees customer boom as it gives back to hospitals, seniors in need

TRAFALGAR, Ind. (WISH) — A bakery and pizzeria is going the extra mile in Johnson County by delivering dozens of doughnuts every day to the hospitals and providing free food deliveries to senior citizens.

Still, it was in danger of closing. That’s when the community stepped in and helped.

Rob Abell, the owner of Jo’s Bakery & Pizzeria, was overcome by the outpouring.

As business dropped about 80% overnight, Abell said he felt a call from God to give free doughnuts to workers on the front lines and provide free basic necessities to seniors in need.

Abell said Jo’s Bakery & Pizzeria is a way to honor the woman on the front mural, his mom Jo.

“She was a baker by trade, but she died almost 12 years ago of cancer,” Abell said, choking up. “It still is hard today.”

Abell is a single dad and accountant by trade. The plan was for Jo’s to be a way to pay for his teen daughter Leah’s education.

After five months of operations, March was shaping up to be the first month he turned a profit. Then the coronavirus hit.

Instead of hunkering down, he began handing out. He began delivering his 10 dozen doughnuts made from scratch each morning to the two hospitals in Johnson County instead of selling them.

“They’re the ones that are the true heroes in all this,” Abell said. “They’re missing their families, their kids.”

When he heard about a shortage of basic food supplies like milk, eggs and potatoes that he could order through his restaurant supply chain, he began offering those items for free to seniors and shut-ins, even delivering them for free.

That’s why there’s several massive stacks of egg cartons next to the pizza boxes and a huge box of toilet paper on a shelf when there are no customers allowed in.

But Friday, he had just about run out. He put out a plea on social media for paying customers.

“I wouldn’t have closed, but I would have been real close to being broke,” Abell said.

They responded.

“Friday night was the busiest Friday night we’ve ever had, followed by a Saturday even busier than Friday.”

You read that right — five months of operations and the busiest night in his shop’s history happens in the middle of a pandemic.

But more than the money was the rejuvenation it provided a man who has been working 27 days straight — a community doing its part to help a man just trying to keep the lights on.

“I’ve been so humbled for the support I got from people that came by,” Abell said.

He’s not out of the woods yet, but he’s refreshed.

Don’t be surprised if even when this is all done, there’s still extra milk in the fridge and stacks of egg cartons because it seems like Jo’s Bakery & Pizzeria has a new mission that won’t quit even when the pandemic does.

“The love they’ve shown me, it’s just overwhelming,” Abell said, overcome with emotion. “I plan on fighting and being here as long as I can, and I think we’ll make it.”

Jo’s Bakery & Pizzeria is right in the heart of Trafalgar at the intersection of State Route 135 and 252, in the same building as the McDonald’s.

He applied for the Paycheck Protection Program on the very first day, but his banker says the program was already out of money.

He estimates he’s provided about 65 gallons of milk, 70 dozen eggs, 280 rolls of toilet paper and 100 pounds of potatoes along with more than 200 dozen doughnuts, all at a time when his business fell 80% overnight.