To say it’s been a tough year for restaurants is putting it hysterically lightly. After a year of transitioning to COVID-19 mandates and all that entailed, to finally seeing a glimmer of hope with the vaccine rollout, only to being walloped by a weather event of historical proportions, which included losing business on both Valentine’s Day and Fat Tuesday, the past year has been a doozy.
Now restauranteurs are trying to focus, once again, on performing CPR on their fragile businesses, with an eye towards things at home and within their communities.
Fork in Road chef and owner Josh Hopkins opened his small restaurant in central Arlington about seven years ago. He worked in big kitchens like Charlie Palmers, Goodfriends and Cock & Bull, but an independent streak drove him to open a place of his own.
Last week as temperatures dipped to single digits, he made the slow drive to his restaurant to check on things. The water was off; possible frozen pipes. Worst, he lost all the perishables in two walk-ins due to lengthy power outages. Trucks couldn't traverse the roads with new deliveries. Then on Wednesday, Arlington issued a boil notice, meaning he couldn’t have opened to serve his community even if he’d wanted to.
“It’s been very taxing on us, going from eight on staff to three when COVID hit,” Hopkins said. "I'm putting in 80-plus hours a week. My wife Sonya and I have been doing everything we can to keep going."
He hopes to be able to reopen Tuesday (Feb. 23), while waiting for a water main to get repaired. Then he'll need two days of prep to replenish essentials for his from-scratch menu.
Not far from Fork in the Road, Dino’s Subs in Arlington, a longtime local favorite, also lost power for two days and everything in their coolers. A personal friend of the family started a GoFundMe page to help recoup losses; by Friday afternoon they’d raised almost $5,000.
Homewood Restaurant, Chef Matt McCallister’s eatery in Uptown had a busted pipe. From their Facebook page:
"This week has been rough, hell the last 11 months have been rough. We got our busted pipe fixed yesterday & we have partially running water (some hot water lines work & some we think might still be frozen) we will be back at it next week but we still need to cook for y’all!!
Since we lightly cured all our halibut as well as did a light cure/heavy smoke on all these oysters
We are going to make a massive batch of smoked oyster & halibut chowder & give it away to anybody that wants a quart of some tasty chowder today!
The details? Just roll through Homewood between 3-5pm today pull up near the front door & we will come out & give you a quart."
The chowder was gone in minutes, naturally.
With inventory spoilage, on top of lost sales, including the normally lucrative Valentine’s Day and repairs, losses are going to be painful. One owner estimated last week easily cost them $10,000.
Dino Santonicola of Partenope Ristorante didn’t lose power or water at his restaurant in downtown Dallas, but lost both at home. He and his wife and their two kids slept in their car for two nights, “The first hour with no heat, you’re OK, it’s not too bad, but by like the fifth hour, you can’t even think straight anymore.”
Even though the restaurant was functioning, Santonicola remained closed much of the week, worried about his family and other employees.
“Sometimes the best choice is the hard one,” he says. “Yeah, I lost some money but I couldn’t focus with my kids at home with no power or water. And the roads were so bad. Honestly, how can I ask my guys to come to work also? We’re healthy and we were careful and that’s what matters.”
Santonicola has seen an uptick in business Friday as downtown hotels were full, something that has happened in about a year. A small bright spot.
Just like when your fingers are exposed to frigid temperatures too long, the thaw is more painful than freeze. But, if there's anything restaurant owners have learned over the past year it's perseverance.
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