In March, the announcement of coronavirus safety restrictions was accompanied by pronouncements of inevitable doom for the restaurant industry.
Now, at least in the city of Philadelphia, that time is fast approaching.
The city’s decision to reinstate the ban on indoor dining and to restrict outdoor dining to members of the same household, effective Nov. 20, has led to a slew of closings, many billed as temporary.
A list of closings compiled by The Inquirer has swelled in the last week to include such destinations as Continental Mid-town, Laurel and In the Valley, Fergie’s Pub, The Goat, The Fairview, Cicala at the Divine Lorraine, Royal Boucherie, Vintage, Catahoula, and Pearl’s Oyster Bar. All of these closings are temporary, joining Monk’s Cafe, which shut down for the winter on Nov. 11.
Rather than fight for takeout and delivery business — and with no additional financial relief in sight from the government — these Philadelphia restaurateurs have chosen to close until 2021 or until restrictions are eased. They feel that they must give up what in an ordinary year would be their busiest months.
Adding to the woes is a new state restriction banning alcohol sales on the night before Thanksgiving, typically among the busiest nights of the year.
It’s important to note that closing and reopening a restaurant is not as simple as flipping a switch. The process is accompanied by an arduous and costly series of steps, including staffing, cleaning, and food procurement. Many restaurateurs, like the owners of Monk’s Cafe, have chosen to close through spring to avoid possibilities of further disruption.
November also brought the announced permanent closings of Philadelphia restaurants Res Ipsa Cafe, Porta and Brickwall, the Trios Pizza location in Northern Liberties, and Grey Lodge Pub. (In the suburbs last weekend, Neshaminy Creek Brewing announced the permanent closing of its Borough Brewhouse in Jenkintown.)
Restaurants are still permitted to offer indoor dining at up to 50% capacity in other Pennsylvania counties and at 25% in New Jersey.
» Here are Philly’s current COVID-19 guidelines: inquirer.com/phillyguidelines
Dave Braunstein closed Pearl’s Oyster Bar in Reading Terminal Market on Nov. 19, until restrictions are lifted. Pearl’s, owned by his family since 1981, had been closed from mid-March till June, when it reopened for takeout and outdoor dining, adding five tables along 12th Street. On Sept. 8, he added indoor dining, and business immediately doubled. Technically, Pearl’s can seat 25 patrons at 50% occupancy, but, he said, this would require a “perfect situation” of properly spaced customers.
Like other Center City businesses, including the market, his weekday breakfast and lunch trade have been decimated by the closings of office buildings and the disappearance of tourists and people called for jury duty.
Being open only for takeout “was a losing effort,” Braunstein said. “Standing there and having 10, 12 sales a day — it’s not worth it. This time around, knowing that we’re going to do takeout only, if I’m going to lose money every day, I figured I’d try to relax a little bit.” His staff of five or six people has been idled; before March, a dozen people worked there.
What would make Braunstein reopen is the return of indoor dining, even at 25% capacity.
“I’m trying to take the good with the bad,” Braunstein said Monday. “I haven’t slept this late in years.”