through Coalter Palmer
| 05/28/2020 2:10 a.m.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold in New Hampshire and across the country, businesses in Hanover are struggling to adjust to an uncertain environment. While some businesses in Hanover remain closed, others have been opened for take-out, delivery or, more recently, alfresco dining.
When New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (right) first imposed dining hall closures on March 16, many restaurants and cafes, including Tuk Tuk Thai Cuisine, Base Camp Cafe, Jewel of India and Umpleby’s Bakery & Cafe, switched to the take-out and delivery model, while Pine offered take-out options without delivery.
More recently, in line with Sununu’s May 1 announcement allowing restaurants to open alfresco dining on May 18 as long as the tables were six feet apart, some restaurants in Hanover, including Boloco, Lou’s Restaurant & Bakery , Murphy’s on the Green, Pine, and Umpleby’s, have started offering socially distant alfresco dining to patrons.
Other restaurants, however, remain temporarily closed, including Molly’s and Market Table. Morano Gelato a permanently closed, as did Dartmouth King Arthur Flour Café in the Baker-Berry library, although KAF has closed for reasons unrelated to the pandemic.
Murphy’s owner Nigel Leeming said prior to Sununu’s announcement he visited the Hanover city government with owner Lou Jarett Berke and several other local restaurateurs to demand that restaurants be allowed. provide outdoor dining options. Now that alfresco dining is allowed, Leeming said that on Tuesday Murphy’s started offering a full-service street food menu. Customers can sit in a tent pitched in the five parking spaces outside Murphy’s on Main Street, he said.
“We’re going to serve all through dinner until about 8pm, and then there will be drinks… you know, festive, kind of like in coastal towns,” Leeming said. “But we will also… enforce the highest degree of CDC and state reopening rules just to protect our employees and the public.”
According to Leeming, when restaurants were first closed in March, Murphy’s decided to forgo offering take-out and deliveries as an alternative to customers, instead of shutting down the business altogether. For restaurants primarily like his, Leeming said, it’s much more difficult to switch to a take-out and delivery model than for restaurants that already relied heavily on those services. Leeming said Murphy’s had not generated revenue throughout its closure.
“We have been crushed and the word is ‘crushed’. And it’s happening all over the United States, ”Leeming said.
Leeming added that the pandemic has exacerbated other challenges facing main street businesses like his.
“During the 2008 financial crisis, Hanover took a hit, and it looks like Main Street [has] has always had to reinvent itself over the past 20 years because of malls, then Amazon and financial crises, ”said Leeming.
Anthony Barnett – owner of restaurants primarily Molly’s and Jesse’s Steakhouse – said that over a weekend at the start of the pandemic, his restaurants saw sales drop by 70%. After Sununu closed the restaurants inside, Barnett and his staff spent three days trying to adjust to a curbside pickup model, but this approach quickly became unsustainable.
“There just wasn’t enough business to make it work,” Barnett said. “We were losing more money being open than if we were just closing. “
After making the decision to put staff on leave and close until further notice, Barnett’s Restaurants donated the food to their pantries and began helping team members file a claim. unemployment.
While Barnett has worked to secure loans that will help pay for fixed expenses, he said current federal paycheck protection program loan regulations, which require 75% of the loan to be allocated to employee compensation, prevents him from being able to use PPP funds now. that its restaurants are closed and that its staff are not working.
“I’m just sitting on the money hoping the laws change to make this loan more forgivable,” Barnett said.
Molly’s and Jesse’s are currently not open for outdoor dining. Barnett explained that several variables – including the safety of customers and his staff, which he says is his top priority – will play a role in his decision about when to reopen.
“Unemployment benefits for some people are more than what they earned in restaurants. So it’s hard to reap these benefits, especially for tip team members, as foot traffic will not be what it used to be, ”Barnett said.
Barnett suggested that with schools still closed, opening outdoor meals could pose problems for employees with children at home. “We could be open right now for outside seating. But we wanted to at least wait until our team members, who are parents, had completed the distance learning, ”Barnett said.
Surendra Thapa, co-owner of Base Camp Cafe, said the restaurant had had to put some of its employees on indefinite leave, adding that he had seen the company’s gross revenues fall by 85%. According to Thapa, the restaurant typically relies on its income from the busy January through June months to cover expenses in the much slower summer months, but with most students off campus for an unknown length of time, the future is uncertain.
“At this point, we’re just opening up to pay the utility bills… and pay the staff,” Thapa said. “We’re just trying to survive.”
Looking to the future, Thapa anticipates obstacles in the reopening process, including the challenge of rehiring staff on leave whose government benefits exceed their salaries. He said he also foresees staff and space issues, as well as other logistical challenges when moving part of his business out. Even though state regulations soon allow for socially distanced dining options, Thapa said, his business’s tight quarters will make it difficult to achieve even 20% occupancy with customers sitting six feet away from one of them. the other.
According to Ken Pace, husband of owner and manager of Tuk Tuk, Pannipa Pace, the popular Thai restaurant has remained “fully open outside of indoor dining.” Pace said Tuk Tuk was lucky because his income – sometimes as low as 30% of his normal income – was enough to pay the thirteen staff and the restaurant bills.
Pace also expressed appreciation for the “outpouring of support” from customers, many of whom he said left “outrageous” thank you notes and advice.
However, according to Pace, with Tuk Tuk’s transition to contactless take-out – staff now leave all completed orders on a bench for customers to pick up – the restaurant has seen a slight increase in thefts. On one occasion, $ 142 worth of food was stolen, Pace said, and on another occasion, someone slipped an order for $ 82.
Barnett noted that one of the positive aspects of the crisis has been the increased cooperation between restaurants in Hanover.
“Once this pandemic hits, everyone wants[ed] help each other, ”he said. “We all share information. If a loan becomes available, everyone sends each other emails.
Lorraine Liu contributed reporting.