Large flurries fell in downtown Southington Friday, putting the brakes on business at some area restaurants.
"It's not like before where we would see people crowd in. I think it keeps people away,” Sean Sherman, owner of Sherman's Taphouse in Southington, said of the combination of the coronavirus and bad weather.
Center Street, which became an expanded patio for nearby restaurants over the summer, reopened to traffic Friday, putting an end to the outdoor dining they've come to count on.
"The agreement was at the first snow the barriers would be removed and they would be removed until springtime,” explained Southington Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Hekeler of the need to allow snow plows and salt trucks through.
Will Customers Come Inside?
"Realistically I think the largest part is the comfort level of our guests,” Sherman said. "It's one of the things that I think concerns all of the restaurant owners in the area. It’s not whether we can reach capacity it's whether guests will come out because of the spike."
"This is the second time I've eaten indoors since last March,” said Deborah James of Plainville.
James met some friends for lunch inside Anthony Jack's, but said now that Covid rates are on the rise and the cold weather is settling in, she's not planning to dine inside at restaurants much this winter.
“Today, I feel extremely comfortable because as you can see we don’t have a lot of patrons here. Would I feel a little different about it if I came on a busy night, I probably would, yes,” she explained.
Mike Carrerra, who ate lunch at Sherman’s on Friday, said he’s been dining out since restaurants reopened in June. He said he’s comfortable moving indoors.
"When it's cold like that, I'd rather be inside,” said Carrerra.
"I think everything's spaced out and for the most part I see people being cautious out there and considerate and I'm comfortable coming inside to eat,” said Jon Leavens, who joined Carrerra for lunch, Friday.
Finding New Revenue Streams
Sherman thought the pandemic would curtail his expansion plans. Instead, he’s buying a food truck, while continuing to run his restaurants in Southington and Burlington.
“They’re obviously in high demand at the moment and it’s one of the things we were looking at before and figured it was a good time to jump on it," he explained.
Mike Miller, the owner of the Hop Haus in Plantsville said he is also opening a second location.
Barry DePaolo, owner of Anthony Jack's, said take-out continues to be his bread and butter during this pandemic. In fact, the restaurant's overall sales are right where they were this time last year.
"Which is unbelievable, which I never would have thought would be happening,” he said.
However, DePaulo pointed out that expenses are eating into profits.
"Our expenses are up. We've got a lot of takeout containers, a lot of different stuff to go, a lot of cleaning stuff,” he explained.
Keeping Customers Warm
Miller extended his outdoor patio into his parking lot in June.
"It's made a big difference with the business. It's been life or death,” said Miller.
He’s also enclosed the space and wants to add heat. The unusual October snow is pushing his plans into high gear.
"My goal is to have that running most of the year,” said Miller.
He along with 14 other restaurants that are members of the Southington Chamber of Commerce are participating in the BYOB (Bring Your Own Blanket) campaign.
Starting October 30th, diners will be encouraged to snap photos of themselves eating out at restaurants with the BYOB sign in the window with their blanket. If they share it on social media they’ll be entered to win a prize from the chamber.
Hekeler said it’s important for residents to continue to support local restaurants in a safe way during the pandemic.
“Our restaurants really serve as a hub of our economic vitality in our community, they employ large numbers of people,” said Hekeler.
"People are doing it. They're bringing blankets and sitting outside. They're already doing it,” DePaulo pointed out. “There's still a lot of people afraid to come inside."
So, while they ready their restaurants for more indoor dining, owners say they're still keeping their patios warm.
"I think we're going to continue to see a lot of people sitting outside as long as they can,” said DePaulo.
BYOB Participating Restaurants are: Tavern 42, Plan B, Flair Restaurant, Close Harbour Seafood, Hop Haus, Hawk’s Landing Club 19, Back Nine Tavern at Southington CC, Sam the Clams Pub & Grub, New Mill Restaurant, Sherman’s Tap House, Ideal Tavern, Puerto Vallarta Restaurant, The Groggy Frogg, The Fire Place and Anthony Jack’s Wood Fired Grill.