Fairfield restaurants struggle during coronavirus restrictions
FAIRFIELD — Town restaurants are laying off staff, seeing a steep cut in business and evaluating their futures day-to-day as the coronavirus pandemic runs into its third week in Connecticut.
Ermal Dido, the owner of Craft 260, a pub on the Post Road, said Gov. Ned Lamont’s executive order to stop all dine-in services and only allow take-out and delivery at restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic has had an extremely detrimental effect on his business and that he worried his business would not survive without some form of governmental assistance.
“Our sales are probably at 10 to 20 percent of what they usually are,” Dido said, adding that in a regular week before COVID-19’s emergence, he would have about 600 customers. Now, he said, it’s down to around 100.
Dido said he laid off about a dozen staff, “most of my workers, which sucks for them as well.”
Paula O’Rourke, the owner of The Castle on Post, another pub on the Post Road, has cut back hours to try to stay solvent.
The restaurant has gone from being open seven days a week to only being open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And while Friday and Saturday have been fairly busy for them, Sunday has seen less business than they anticipated. She said they were taking an 80 percent cut to regular business.
“Obviously, we’ve had to lay people off and limit hours,” O’Rourke said, adding that she and her husband had to cut nine employees,which has left them with a skeleton crew. “The other thing that we’re concerned about is, although we are deemed a necessity, I feel like we are encouraging people to come, which I’ve been having a hard time wrestling with.”
O’Rourke said she worries for customers and her employees because they have stayed open during the pandemic. While some customers wear gloves, others do not and it can be hard to keep up with disinfecting the things customers use, like pens, when there is a rush.
“It’s a very stressful time to say the least,” she said. She also said the community has been amazing in supporting the business.
Stephanie McCool, the manager of Flipside Burgers and Bar, a Post Road restaurant, said they had to lay off almost the entire staff — 22 people. Michael Baffa, the owner, said they were doing around 5 percent of the business they usually do.
Baffa said it was costing him money to stay open and that he has been evaluating whether to do so on a day-to-day basis.
“I like to think I’m doing it to give people an alternative option for food,” Baffa said. “If you’re locked in your house for three or four weeks, it gets tiring.”
He said he and the remaining staff spend most of their downtime cleaning, adding, “If I go out of business, it’s going to be very clean.”
McCool said it was important for people to realize that many restaurants are staying open not to make money, but to give people options for their meals. She said if Flipside does close, it lowers its chances of reopening.
“We are just barely hanging on by a string,” she said.
“To do a take-out business,” Baffa said, “I don’t need a 2,700-square-foot building.”
Anthony Finto, the owner of Taj Indian Cuisine on Black Rock Turnpike, said business had been pretty bad, but he had yet to lay off workers. He said he was going to assess his situation in the coming days.
Cameron Harris, the general manager of Geronimo Tequila Bar and Southwest Grill on the Post Road, said the restaurant was still doing some business, but it was nowhere close to the normal level. He said Geronimo had to lay off staff, but would not say how many.
“Now is the time for people to go out and support their local businesses,” Harris said. “Give more than you might normally be able to. A lot of small businesses are going to be affected by this in the long term. I don’t predict (Geronimo) being one of them, but now is the time for people to act together and show support.”
Jamie Cooper, the owner of Bonda Resturaunt, the only restaurant in the Greenfield Hills neighborhood, said business was not bad, then added that he felt obligated to say that because he is an optimist. He said nothing they are doing compares to business when they are operating fully.
“Right now, we’ve definitely seen a good amount of support from local customers,” Cooper said, adding that the restaurant was doing 50 percent of the business it would in a typical week. He said he thinks there has been a surge to support them and, while he appreciates that, he knows it is not sustainable.
“It’s kind of like when somebody dies and, in the beginning, everybody is all over that person’s family to make sure they’re OK,” Cooper said. “But, as time wears on, people stop checking in on them.”
According to Cooper, some customers have tipped hundreds of dollars. He said he divides those tips between the staff that are not working.
Cooper said he currently has four or five employees on the job out of an original 10, working reduced hours but getting paid for full time. He said his other employees are welcome to come back as soon as the coronavirus pandemic ends and restaurants are allowed to have diners again.
“We’ve been fortunate thus far,” Cooper said. “Everybody is impacted. We understand that all of our customers are feeling the pain too.”
David Snyder, the co-owner of Brick Walk Tavern on the Post Road, said the coronavirus crisis has been a horrific situation for everybody. His tavern, he said, has seen a 90 percent drop in revenue.
“If you look at the model of any business out there, if you are at 10 percent capacity, you’re out of business,” Synder said. “That’s why plenty of small businesses are either going out of business or electing to go out of business temporarily, because you can’t survive this.”
Unless a business has the reserve funds to hold on, Synder said, it is a fight every day. He said Brick Walk Tavern is a year into its lease and in tremendous debt from building the business.
“If we fold now, we’re screwed,” Synder said. “So we are doing everything we can to hold on.”
Snyder said he and his business partner, Ted Vincent, had to lay off 25 to 30 employees. They are keeping on as many employees as possible and offering free delivery so that some of the employees he laid off can drive and make tips.
He said he and Vincent are not making any money. They are just trying to scratch out enough to pay their employees and vendors.
“When you are in your first year of business, and you are really in debt, there is no reason to put yourself further in debt,” Synder said. “If it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be. We aren’t going to fight against a current that can’t be fought against. But, while there’s a fight, we’re going to fight.
“We are all in this together. All of the small businesses that are staying open are doing it for a combination of reasons. It’s for the community. It’s for ourselves. It’s for our empoyees,” he said.