For restaurant owners, the last month hasn’t been easy. After the governor issued a COVID-19 related mandate that closed all eateries to dine-in customers, business owners had to decide if moving to a take-out only model was worth it.
Many decided to temporarily close, others have been embracing the change and some tried take-out only at first, only to close weeks later for monetary or safety reasons.
The owners of Anthony Jacks Wood Fired Grill and Tavern 42, both in Southington, made an immediate decision to temporarily close Tavern 42 when the mandate came out, consolidating efforts at Anthony Jacks only, which was already conducive to a take-out model. About 10 percent of its business before the virus was takeout.
But co-owners Cheryl Moran and Barry DePaolo are still taking things day by day. Every morning they follow the latest news on COVID-19 and consider what’s best for the safety of their employees and customers.
“We’ve struggled with it since day one … It’s a really fine line and it changes from hour to hour,” Moran said. “The biggest thing is the community has been so grateful.”
They’ve chosen to stay open as a chance to continue serving the community and other businesses. Moran said customers have been so thankful, it motivates her to keep going. Plus, staying open means they can continue paying some employees and giving vendors, including farmers, continued business.
“I feel in a way we’re helping the whole chain,” Moran said.
The partners had to lay off about 100 employees between the two restaurants, which Moran said was one of the hardest days of her life. About 20 employees stayed on to help with take-out.
They added family style meals to the menu, and are offering bottles of wine with food orders.
J. Timothy Taverne’s in Plainville decided to close on March 30 for the safety of employees, more than 20 of which were needed to keep up with demand.
“We came to a point where we knew the most important thing we could do was to preserve our business so when this is over we still had jobs for the 150 people we employ,” co-owner Tim Adams said.
The restaurant — famous for its wings — was still busy, relatively speaking, after the governor closed all dine-in restaurant options on March 16. In terms of cash flow, Adams said they could have stayed open, but felt there were too many unknowns. This way, they were able to temporarily close on their own terms.
With the couple dozen employees needed just to keep up with demand, Adams said the restaurant ran the risk of spreading the virus within the team. Gov. Ned Lamont reduced the gathering limit recommendation to five people on March 26, which applies to restaurant staff and customers as well.
Adams laid off most of his employees so they could try to collect unemployment benefits. He said the team is missing their customers, and have been appreciative of their outreach, especially online.
“Our goal is to come back bigger and better and stronger than ever,” Adams said.
The Eatery in Wallingford chose to stay open, and the owners are glad they did. After transitioning to take-out only at first, they decided to lock the doors of the restaurant and offer a walk-up cart, curbside pickup, or delivery instead.
“We just noticed that people were uncomfortable when they came inside and not wanting to touch the door handles and we just realized that we could do more and keep them even safer,” said co-owner Leah Masella. Masella owns The Eatery with her husband Jon Masella.
To make customers feel a little more welcome, they had Kate McNamee, owner of Splat Art Studio down the road, paint a mural on the windows telling people where to order and painted the ordering cart to be fun and colorful.
The Eatery has been kept pretty busy day to day, especially with catering orders that go to hospitals, homeless shelters, and other first responders.
“Now we’re feeling like we’re able to be useful in some way ... to be able to feed people,” Leah Masella said. “The support from the community has absolutely blown us away. At the end of every day, we just come home feeling so blessed.”
Iron Chef in Wallingford decided to close for the safety of its employees and customers a few weeks ago, but reopened for online orders only starting Friday.
“I’m concerned about the state of my customers, but my employees as well,” manager Napas Ruangdech said. “We got so sad that we had to close … now we’re so happy that we can reopen again.”
Customers will have to get out of the car to get their orders, which will be on a table in the front foyer. A security camera will allow the staff to communicate with customers. In most cases, the customer will be able to pick up an order without coming in contact with anyone else.
Ruangdech said the staff has been reduced by choice because many employees were too afraid of getting sick with the virus if they continued working. The handful of employees who are willing to work is the perfect amount to run “front door pickup” operations, Ruangdech said.
“No one can make a profit in this time, we just have to help each other,” Ruangdech said, adding all orders will be 20 percent off.
Gaetano’s Tavern in Wallingford transitioned to take-out instead of closing, although the owners are still considering temporarily closing.
“Even now we’re still debating because we don't want to make anyone unsafe,” co-owner Cheryl Milot said.
Milot said the transition from mostly dine-in to take-out only hasn’t been too bad. Hours have changed, and so have some menu items, but the restaurant already had the systems and materials in place from its catering work. The biggest hit will be in the percentage of sales, but they feel any money going toward bills is a good thing.
To better serve the community, Gaetano’s brought back some family “dinner for four” options, which Milot said have been about 90 percent of the business now.
Some of the family meals include chicken parmesan over penne pasta, Yankee pot roast, mac and cheese, Tequila chicken and more.
Milot said the community support they’ve received is greatly appreciated.
“It helps tremendously at this time because everything is uncertain, everybody's in the same boat and we’re all just trying to make ends meet,” she said.
Adams pointed out that his long-established and popular restaurant is unique in its position because while J. Timothy’s will likely return strong, he guesses a tenth of restaurants won’t be able to reopen.
He expects when restaurants can safely reopen, things will look different than they did before COVID-19.
Masella said she and her husband are already thinking about how they may have to adapt to a new reality after COVID.
“We don’t exactly know what it’s going to look like, but we’re going to be flexible for what people need,” Masella said. “I don’t think we’re going 100% back to the way that we were running.”
Anthony Jacks Wood Fired Grill is taking orders for curbside pickup and free-delivery only. Order over the phone at 860-426-1487. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. everyday except Tuesdays.
Customers looking to order from The Eatery can use their mobile app, order by phone, or by walking up to a kart set up outside the business. Delivery is also available for orders with a minimum $25 purchase, within a two-mile radius of the restaurant at 65 S. Colony St. Business hours remain Tuesday through Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Iron Chef will be open seven days a week at first but may change to six days. Changes are posted to the Iron Chef Facebook page. Place your order and pay online or by phone. Hours are 4 to 9 p.m.
Gaetano’s Tavern is open 4:30 to 8 p.m. seven days a week. Orders can be placed over the phone any time of day, for take-out and curbside pickup. UberEats is available for delivery options.