Restaurant reviewer Bob Sacks spoke to Two River area chefs and restaurateurs for this two-part article on what restaurants are doing during the stay-at-home order.
Chef David Burke of Drifthouse and restaurateur Steve Bidgood of Salt Creek Grille share their fears, frustrations and hope for restaurants and their employees during the new rules of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Long ago, humans were hunter/foragers and roamed the land in search of food. It was a time-consuming task, and we never knew for sure what, where and when we would eat.
Fast forward many thousands of years and once again there is uncertainty in regards to obtaining food; we are roaming and foraging, but it’s now over the internet.
You can attempt to order groceries online and play a form of “Spin the Wheel” in search of a time slot for delivery or curbside pickup. If you are lucky enough, you will land a date and time within a reasonable number of days and get at least some of the items you actually wanted, without substitutions, or seeing the words “out of stock.”
Sure, you can don a mask and gloves and brave the stores in person, with their many empty shelves, but this is not an option for folks at risk medically, the elderly or those without transportation.
Happily, some of our local restaurants are braving the current invasion and have come to our rescue.
Despite the hardships, many remain open for takeout and/or delivery. This allows the homebound to order some of their favorite dishes from their favorite restaurants and enjoy much needed comfort food, since meals seem to have taken on a far greater significance in this age of sheltering in place. “What are we going to eat today?” has become a key question.
Sadly, many restaurants have been unable to retain their employees and have had to shut their doors. I spoke with a number of chef/owners in our area to get a sense of what they are feeling during this stressful time.
Michael Krikorian, owner of Copper Canyon, Higo and Gaslight, all Atlantic Highlands, has had to close all three. He feels that “few industries have been as hard hit as the hospitality industry… Restaurants run on tight margins and most do not have reserves for slower days, let alone weeks or months.” He echoed words I heard time and time again: “My main concern right now is my employees.”
Tania and Chris Calabrese, owners of Nettie’s House of Spaghetti, Tinton Falls, decided to close as well. “We don’t have income, our employees don’t have income and the food suppliers and farmers are also taking a major hit… It’s going to be extremely challenging opening back up after being closed for so long. We have to start from zero, like we did when we opened the restaurant a little over a year ago. We will really need to rely on our guests to come in and help us reopen. Without their support, we won’t be able to survive.” In the interim, “many loyal guests have purchased gift cards, 100 percent of the proceeds from which goes to our staff until we reopen.”
David Burke owns many restaurants, most notably in our area, Drifthouse by David Burke, Sea Bright. He said, “Chefs are like piano players on the Titanic. We want to cook! We want to serve! That’s the restaurant mentality. We don’t like to be defeated.” Burke told me that “we are very appreciative of our loyal clientele and are offering a deal, where if you buy $100 of takeout, you get a $25 gift card. We are even including hand sanitizers in our takeout while supplies last.”
Sam Sherman and his family, who own Barnacle Bill’s in Rumson, said, “our ultimate responsibility to our staff is to be here for them when this is over so we can all get back to work. They have become family to us. We won’t go down without a fight.” Barnacle Bill’s is offering porch pickup so they can “continue to feed our community and bring comfort to those who have found it here for so many years.” Sherman said, “If there is a silver lining in this whole thing it is that I have seen firsthand how supportive the community is.”
Steve Bidgood and his partners in Salt Creek Grille, Rumson, as well as others, have decided to completely shut down all of their restaurants. Bidgood said it was a “difficult and painful decision,” but, he said, “here’s something my partners and I are certain of: We will reopen and we will continue to serve our guests the best dining experience possible.” Like almost all the other restaurants I communicated with, Salt Creek Grille has set up a GoFundMe page to help their “hourly employees during this stressful time.”
It is readily apparent that these chef/owners have a deep sense of loyalty to, and affection for, their employees as well as their patrons. They all have stated in one way or another that they rely on and appreciate the fact that they could not exist without support from both.
If we want to help these local restaurants, and their staffs in their ongoing fight for survival, so they will be there for us in the future, consider using takeout from those who offer it, buy gift cards for future use, and check the GoFundMe page to see if your favorite dining spot has set up a relief fund to help their employees ride out the storm. Perhaps your favorite waitperson will benefit from this and still be there when you are able to venture out for food and drink again.
We look forward to the day when we won’t have to spend our time chasing after the food which we unknowingly took for granted before this nightmare hit.
Bob Sacks, longtime food and wine buff, reviews restaurants in this column. Follow him on Instagram @dinnerwithbob.
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