Restaurants brace for a possible second shutdown in Charlotte
With coronavirus cases on the rise again, and 2020 being the year that it’s been, restaurant owners are bracing for more bad news.
No shutdown (yet): Unlike other states around the country, Governor Roy Cooper hasn’t tightened restrictions on restaurants and bars, but he’s warned that the state could have to if metrics don’t start improving.
It’s a message many in the food and beverage industry were both expecting and hoping wouldn’t come.
Permanent closures: A few owners I spoke to say another shutdown of dine-in service could mean the end of their restaurant.
“Another shutdown would probably mean the end of Sea Level NC in Uptown,” Paul Manley says. Manley also owns Ace No. 3 and The Waterman, both of which have fared better during the pandemic, he says.
Andy Kastanas, co-owner of Soul Gastrolounge and Kiki, also said he’s concerned about another shutdown. “Without ample warning that would put Kiki in extreme danger of permanently shutting down,” he says. “It was hard enough to reopen after a seven month shutdown, we would not survive another.”
In their words: At the very beginning of the pandemic, the Agenda reached out to a number of restaurant, brewery, and bar owners across the city to ask how they were fairing during this “uncharted territory.”
This week, we checked back in. Here are their responses, edited for clarity and brevity.
Dot Dot Dot
On a possible shutdown: I’m 100 percent concerned about another shutdown. I am 99 percent sure that it’s going to happen. As much as nobody wants to hear it, we have no one to blame but ourselves. A closure of indoor dining means a closure for our whole business.
More enforcement: I would like to see the city/state attempt to enforce occupancy, social distancing, and safety rules before a complete shutdown. Charlotte bar owners: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. All of us who are doing it right also know all of you who are doing it wrong.
Revenue: Sales are definitely down, but we have been creative to help raise sales. We are fortunate to have loyal guests who feel comfortable and safe at Dot Dot Dot, and I’ve seen a lot of return business. Sales have slowly increased since June, but since September we have been basically at 100 percent legal occupancy. There isn’t much more growth available until the occupancy law changes.
Remember: Be understanding! These rules are here to protect your safety and the safety of the person serving you. If you don’t wanna wear a mask, stay at home. If you don’t wanna follow the rules, stay at home. If you don’t feel good, stay at home. Be understanding to the fact that your server, bartender, busboy, or manager is working to put food on their table for them and their family.
Jeff Tonidandel and Jamie Brown
Haberdish, Growlers, Reigning Doughnuts
On a possible shutdown: We are worried about another shutdown here in Charlotte. If this happens, we’ll likely have to let go of our team again, and that’s our biggest worry — taking care of our people.
Impact: This year is terribly difficult financially, but our businesses have weathered the changes so far and we have faith that they will make it through the winter, even if we do have to close up for dine-in service. The worrisome part is that our PPP funds were a huge part of how we got through the 2020 spring/summer shutdown, and there’s uncertainty around what the government will give in terms of aid in the coming months.
Revenue: At Haberdish, revenue is down about 40 percent. At Crepe Cellar, Growlers Pourhouse, and Reigning Doughnuts, we’re down about 50 percent.
How to support: One of the biggest ways to help all of us local business owners of any kind is to just follow best practices to stop the spread of COVID. That way there is less chance of all of us having to shut down again.
Those who feel safe to dine out, we welcome seeing you, and we’re grateful for your tips for our team members. With restricted capacity, higher tipping has been a huge help to our front of house staff. If you’re unable to dine in, we encourage takeout.
Andy and Lesa Kastanas
Soul Gastrolounge, KiKi Bistro
On a possible shutdown: Without ample warning that would put Kiki in extreme danger of permanently shutting down. It was hard enough to reopen after a seven month shutdown; we would not survive another.
On voluntary closure: We would not voluntarily close because we have taken extreme care to enforce all safety precautions and mandates and believe that we have created a safe and pleasant environment. Restaurants should remain open and be a part of the solution to provide safe and regulated dining versus forcing people back into unregulated environments like large family gatherings and backyard parties.
Revenue: Revenue has dropped to 50 percent of sales at Soul. Sales were 0 at Kiki until reopening two weeks ago and are still down 70 percent.
Shoutout: The city government has been very supportive in many ways with financial assistance and guidance programs to help businesses get through this.
Mama Ricotta’s, YAFO, Midwood Smokehouse, Paco’s Tacos, Little Mama’s
On a possible shutdown: It would not surprise me in the least. Our team did a very good job with some of the restaurants doing to-go only, but not all of the restaurants are set up for it as well. We’ll figure it out.
On voluntary closure: No. What are you going to do? You’re going to lay off a bunch of people. We have 600 to 700 employees. I take them making a living very seriously. I doubt that I’ll make any money, but they’re going to get unemployment benefits at a percentage of what their normal income is? I just don’t think it’s fair.
Revenue: About 80 percent drop on catering business. The restaurants are at about 70 percent of where they were in 2019.
Dressler’s, Dogwood, Fin & Fino, The Porter’s House
On a possible shutdown: It would very detrimental to our existence.
Revenue: Sales in our restaurants range from 5 to 60 percent depending on the concept and month.
How to support: Please visit all of your favorite local establishments during this difficult time to help ensure that they will be around for the foreseeable future.
Bang Bang Burgers
On a possible shutdown: The first shutdown already changed what would have been a great year into a borderline disaster. We were able to do it before, and I’m confident we would be able to survive again, but it would absolutely negatively impact my employees and my ability to give them a stable work environment.
On voluntary closure: If I was guaranteed financial help for my employees, yes.
Revenue: Our 7th Street location will probably be down 30 percent for the year. The Tremont location will probably be down closer to 35 to 40 percent for the year.
How to support: Keep eating those burgers! Also, during the holidays, purchasing gift cards to give to your friends as a holiday gift or stocking stuffer is a great way to support local businesses.
Stagioni, Barrington’s, Good Food on Montford, NC Red
On a possible shutdown: I have been planning on the assumption that there will be another shutdown. Hopefully not, but if so, we will just change our business model again. We will focus on takeout and deal with colder weather making outdoor dining more difficult. The downside to completely closing is retaining key staff.
Revenue: With the expansion of our patios, we have only seen about a 20 percent loss of revenue. If we lose the patios due to cold weather, we stand to see another 20 to 25 percent decrease. Our takeout sales are down about 70 percent from when we were in phase one.
How to support: Clearly the best way to support us right now is to continue to visit the restaurants. People also need to understand that our operating costs (food and labor) have gone up significantly as revenue has dropped. Expect to see higher prices. Please understand.
On a possible shutdown: I think it is inevitable. If we see a spike after Thanksgiving, it would be detrimental. The only positive is it’ll be around the first quarter which is already a slower time for the industry.
On voluntary closure: It is something we have discussed internally and would like to avoid. However, we will continue to closely monitor the numbers over the coming months and do what is best for our guests and team — even if that means closing voluntarily.
Revenue: We are doing approximately 50 percent of normal revenue — in addition, costs have increased across the board. Our cleaning supplies and PPE costs have quadrupled, for example.
How to support: The Charlotte community has been incredibly supportive. That’s something we will never take for granted. We encourage people to continue dining out, in a safe way of course. Other ways outside of dining that help our team include buying gifts cards, purchasing retail wine offerings that change month-to-month, and taking advantage of our butcher shop items offered weekly. Our hospitality industry is really hurting so shop local as much as you can. Trust us when we say every little bit helps.
Last thing: Wear your mask!
Jay and Miketa Davis
Lulu’s Maryland Style Chicken & Seafood
On a possible shutdown: There is always a concern about another shutdown. But back in March, we proactively transitioned to curbside early before Governor Cooper’s executive orders were announced. During the pandemic, we actually didn’t return to indoor dining but instead decided to remain takeout and curbside only for the safety of our staff and customers.
Revenue: The pandemic has actually helped our business grow. During many of the protests this summer, many really banded in support of Black-owned businesses. We also saw an increase in sales from being visible in the community, participating in Charlotte’s Black Restaurant Week, and continuing to support other small businesses. We just observed the first anniversary of LuLu’s, and we’re proud to have had a 7-figure year and make plans to expand with another location in Plaza Midwood.
How to support: Charlotte can continue to support us by telling more people about us. The best way to support us is to also come visit us or place an order. We’d like to thank Charlotte for their support and truly investing in us. A year ago, we had no restaurant experience — just a vision to serve good Maryland-style seafood that we didn’t see in Charlotte, and also a way to provide for our family so that they could have financial freedom.
On a possible shutdown: We are concerned with talks of another shutdown. It would be devastating to Pinhouse and to our staff and their families. These politicians want to shut down businesses and take away jobs but continue to take their pay.
Revenue: The last eight months have been tough for Pinhouse. We have had to be very creative and find ways to get customers in earlier since we have to be closed at 11 p.m. Our sales are down 50 percent, and we are just trying to make enough money to stay above water, cover our bills, and make sure all of our staff is paid.
How to support: Go out and support local if you are healthy and feel comfortable going out. This is a tough time for everyone, not just local businesses. We are not the only ones in this battle but if we all support each other and our communities, we will get through this.
Chris and Tara Goulet
On a possible shutdown: We would shift back to to-go only for the tap room. We have already done numerous things to be more conservative than the state requirements, but I don’t think we’d voluntarily completely shut down.
Revenue: So far 2020 is on track to be down approximately 19 percent from 2019. However, our draft business is much more impacted and looks to finish roughly 40 percent down versus last year.
How to support: The craft beer community has been incredibly supportive this year. If folks are looking to support more, then we’d suggest purchasing cans at grocery stores, at our tap room, and/or merch and gift cards online.
Feeling hopeful: We see some light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines should be available next year, folks have been good about mask wearing and social distancing, and the trends in N.C. look better than many other states.
The Dumpling Lady
On a possible shutdown: We are not too worried about another shutdown as we think it is an unlikely scenario. If it does happen though, we will be prepared.
Revenue: Business is definitely slower. About 15 to 20 percent down overall.
How to support: Eat local when you can. Tip cash if you can. If you get delivery, go directly through the businesses if possible.
Burke Hospitality Group (Mimosa Grill, Harper’s)
On a possible shutdown: We will do our best to keep outdoor seating and to-go business going and continue to try to feed those less fortunate in our community with additional grants. We are closely monitoring Governor Cooper and the state DHHS guidelines and suggestions and hope that closing 100 percent will not be necessary.
Impact: This has been devastating to our people and our business, and we need everyone to do everything possible to follow all the CDC guidelines and speak to their representatives about the Restaurant Act and to keep the pressure on until Congress passes it or we will lose 60 to 80 percent of the locally owned restaurants in Charlotte.
How to support: The city can promote the restaurants that are working safe. The city can continue to look for local and state grants to help the local restaurants. The city can look at funds earmarked for philanthropic purposes and use those funds to hire restaurants to prepare meals for local residents in need.
On a possible shutdown: We are worried about another shut down — it would be extremely difficult to furlough our staff again. They’re all working so hard to keep our customers safe and make ends meet at limited capacity. If another shutdown occurs, we would pivot to takeout and get creative (hello, pizza!).
How to support: Support local at whatever your comfort level is — whether that’s dine in, dining in on our patios, or takeout. With the 50 percent capacity restrictions, consider switching up your dining time. Charlotte has a fondness for the coveted 7:30 reservation, so consider joining us at 5:30 or 8:30.
Sweet Lew’s, Dish
On a possible shutdown: I think we’re all worried about another shutdown. Sweet Lew’s and Dish will operate within whatever mandates are laid out.
Revenue: Sales at Sweet Lew’s are down 45 percent. Sales at Dish are down 40 percent. Unfortunately cost of goods have gone up and availability of certain items has been sporadic.
How to support: Charlotte always shows up! At this time the best support is patience, we are all doing our best to navigate these unprecedented times. We’ve made several adjustments to our daily operations to continue serving our community, that comes with ups and downs.
Rooster’s, Noble Smoke, The King’s Kitchen, Bossy Beulah’s, Copain
On a possible shutdown: It is my hope that we do not have to go through another shutdown. If there is a shutdown, even more restaurants will be forced to permanently close their doors. The places that have been clinging on to life the past few months simply won’t make it.
On a possible shutdown: I would be surprised if they did not shut us down. The talk amongst the industry is that we will likely be shut down after Christmas. It would obviously be another challenge to us. That said, it’s not like we are in a perfect situation now. Another shutdown is a concern, but the cold weather preventing outdoor seating is a similar concern.
Revenue: Our sales have leveled out for the last couple of months. Being a fast casual restaurant, we depend a lot on lunch and that has been our biggest challenge. Our Morehead store is essentially an extension of Uptown, and that area has been devastated.
How to support: Charlotte has been very considerate to our industry. People get what we are going through and they try to help. They just need to continue to order take out and delivery for several more months, We hope that’s not asking too much.
On a possible shutdown: With rising Covid cases, we are certainly anxious about what’s going to happen next. If we are required to close again by a government mandate, it would severely impact our business.
Revenue: We are down over 40 percent, and our staff has been cut in half from 40 to 20 team members. Nonetheless, we’re fortunate to have a great landlord and bank that we work with, and feel confident that we will make it to the other side of the pandemic.
How to support: The restaurant community needs your support. If you have a favorite restaurant or bar, they may not be here by next summer. Winter is coming, and with the weather cooling off, outdoor seating is diminishing until spring. Make sure to support your local restaurants (and not just for pizza and tacos) — we need you as much as you need us right now.
Be kind: When you go out to eat or get takeout, be kind, tip well, and be understanding. It’s a privilege to go out to eat, and the people who are serving you, or cooking your food, or washing your dishes have been through a lot.
Feeling hopeful: We are hopeful for a vaccine and for the future. We believe in science and for our community to succeed on the other side of this pandemic.
We hope that this pandemic will help our community grow closer to one another and realize the importance of supporting locally owned and independent businesses. The impact of “voting with your fork” creates a vibrant economy by supporting so many local farms and producers across our North Carolina agricultural system.
[Related Agenda guide: The 20 best restaurants in Charlotte, right now]
Andrew and Alyssa Wilen
Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen
On a possible shutdown: We’ll always adapt to the existing regulations and provide the safest environment possible. If there were a shutdown it would most likely mean no in-person cooking class events. We would move back to our virtual classes which were successful in the fall. Currently our ghost kitchen to-go meals are available and would become even a greater priority for us. And as businesses return to their office, we hope they take advantage of our company catered lunches.
Revenue: When the pandemic began in March we saw an immediate 90% drop in revenue which was very difficult for our business. Since then we’ve been climbing back up with more in-person events and even a handful of private events again. However we’ll expect to be far below last year’s revenue number at about 60%.
How to support: Try our to-go meals!! A menu that we designed last year specifically for carry-out. Local and affordable for anyone. At Chef Alyssa’s Kitchen, we just want you to try a dinner from us and to tell a friend because we know the quality we are making.
Be kind: Please be kind. Many folks in this industry have needed to come into work everyday since March 16th and haven’t been able to fully work at home. We’re familiar with 60 hour work weeks, but we’ve been working even harder at our craft lately. More than we care to share. And for Alyssa and I it’s managing the business along with our one year old baby too.
Wooden Robot Brewery
On a possible shutdown: We are worried about another shutdown for our team and the community’s sake. That means cases will be higher than they are now, and it will not be safe for us, our staff, and our patrons to be out.
How to support: This year has been tough for all, but we encourage everyone to continue supporting their favorite small businesses whenever they can. Every pint, crowler, glass, or merchandise purchase directly goes to helping our staff.
Sea Level NC, The Waterman, Ace No. 3
On a possible shutdown: Another shutdown would probably mean the end of Sea Level NC in Uptown. Uptown is the one neighborhood in Charlotte that has simply not recovered at all since this pandemic started.
Revenue: We are down 70 percent week to week from last year at Sea Level.
Masks work: We employ over 100 people, and they all work in close quarters. We have not passed this virus from one staff member to another at work yet. Not one. The rules and ordinances work. Masks work. Don’t punish all businesses because a few don’t follow the rules. Punish the rule breakers and let the compliant businesses operate.
How to support: Support the businesses that you see are doing the right thing. Don’t join the conga line of maskless morons tromping through the oblivious dining room and then post it on the ‘gram. That crap ruins it all for the rest of us.
[Related Agenda story: Hey South End, the pandemic is still a thing]
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