March 16, 2020, was a difficult day for restaurant and bar owners in the state.
One year ago, they woke up not knowing it would end up being their last day serving customers in-person for months.
Now with familiar faces returning so is owner Marisa Bramato’s optimism for the future of Esca Restaurant & Wine Bar in Middletown.
“Never did we expect a year of this happening,” said Bramato.
That’s when coronavirus concerns forced a whirlwind of changes to our lives, including bars and restaurants having to suddenly close in-person service.
“When this first happened we had to let go of everybody,” said Bramato.
Bramato says for months she worked seven days a week with another person to keep takeout and her business going.
“I was not sleeping at night. I would wake up thinking this will be the end of us, not knowing. It was the not knowing that was eating me alive,” said Bramato.
Over the last year hundreds of restaurants in the state did close even as in-person dining resumed.
“It's been a year of survival,” said Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association.
Dolch says while his organization has tried to help this has also been a year of innovation.
Millwright’s in Simsbury built greenhouses. West Hartford expanded outdoor eating into streets. Takeout cocktails were offered in Manchester and elsewhere.
But many spots are still hurting even with support from the community, along with grants and federal money.
“It's going to take years for a full recovery. There's no question about it,” said Dolch.
After losing about 40% of their revenue last year, Bramato says they’re starting again to get busy at times, especially as more people become vaccinated and comfortable with eating out.
“It’s definitely going in the right direction,” said Bramato.
On Friday the state capacity limit is going to be lifted at restaurants.
But they say what would really help is relaxing the six-foot rule which is effectively creating its own cap on the number of customers.