Diners everywhere have been saddened to see favorite restaurants close in the pandemic. Now, they’re starting to see another trend: hibernation.
That means closing a restaurant temporarily, primarily because of the weakened economy and a slump in tourism, but also in order to protect staff from getting sick.
The latest such move came Thursday, when legendary New York restaurant Joe Allen announced on Instagram that it is going on hiatus. Located only steps from many Broadway theaters, Joe Allen’s has always been a favorite spot before and after shows.
But with Broadway theaters dark, the restaurant has encountered an undeniable drop in business, and its neighborhood patrons haven’t been enough to help it stay open.
“With COVID cases and a slushy NYC winter barreling down on us, we’ve made the decision to hibernate until the time is write,” the restaurant wrote. “Yeah, we’re disappointed, but we feel it’s the right decision for now.”
Hibernation also is being felt across Chicago, says Ina Pinkney, the author and former restaurant owner who is the subject of the documentary, Breakfast at Ina’s.
“More and more people have said they are closing for the winter,” she said recently. “Everyone I know is suffering. Really suffering.”
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Restaurants have found themselves hampered by multiple shutdowns of indoor dining, which have been ordered in Chicago, Toronto, Los Angeles and across Michigan.
They’ve left places unable to plan everything from ordering ingredients, to scheduling server shifts and figuring out how many hours they can stay open.
The designs of some restaurants also haven’t allowed for modifications required to accommodate COVID-10 protocols, like social distancing and plexiglass dividers.
That is a reason why Sava Farah hasn’t reopened Aventura, her popular restaurant in Ann Arbor, Mich., that specializes in tapas and paella. There, guests sit around a bar or at close-set tables, often ordering numerous plates for everyone to try.
“The food is sharing, and it’s also an experience,” Farah told me for an article in the Ann Arbor Observer. She expects to be closed until at least February. “We’re going to let Aventura sit there until it makes sense to open a restaurant like that.”
Of course, extended vacations are common in resort areas, like Cape Cod, as well as in seaside towns across the Pacific and New England coasts that don’t draw many visitors in blustery months.
Some owners are cutting deals with landlords to close this coming winter until there is clarity about COVID.
Other proprietors are using their spaces for other purposes. In New Orleans, Michael Gulotta has yet to welcome guests back to Maypop, his Asian fusion restaurant in the Central Business District.
Instead, he is using the kitchen to prepare meals for Chef’s Brigade, a non-profit coalition of independent restaurants, food purveyors and chefs who are feeding first responders and essential workers.
With participation from dozens of city restaurants, Chef’s Brigade is providing as many as 60,000 meals per day, working in conjunction with FEMA and the city of New Orleans.
Restaurants prepare and package dishes, then are paid by the charity, which operates on grants and donations. The meals are distributed from half a dozen points throughout the city.
“Our landlords are being very cool and understanding,” says Gulotta of Maypop. “There’s not a whole lot we can do, and they’re understanding that part.”
In the meantime, he’s concentrating on his casual spot, Mopho, near New Orleans’ City Park. He’s moved a few of Maypop’s dishes onto its menu, and is focusing on attracting locals, rather than the tourists who made up some of Maypop’s business.
“We definitely don’t want to not reopen Maypop, but MoPho is running on such thin margins that we can’t open at all,” he says.
One reason is that Maypop, which opened in 2017, ran at a loss the first two years. “I keep itching to reopen it and my business partner keeps telling me, ‘We can’t.’ If we reopen, it sinks both restaurants.”
Back in New York, Joe Allen’s plans its last dinner service for now on Saturday night.
“We’ll be back. Broadway will be back,” it told patrons. “Wait for it.”