Owners And Staff Gear Up For Restaurant, Bar Closures

Mar 17, 2020

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper today ordered a suspension of dine-in service at all bars and restaurants in the state. WHQR’s Vince Winkel spoke with restaurant owners and staff in Wilmington about the hardships that lie ahead.

Restaurant owners got the order no one wants to hear: it’s time to close.

Justin Smith owns three restaurants downtown: The Husk, Dram and Morsel, and Yosake.

“It didn't come as too much a surprise, as a surprise. Obviously. I think that this is something that needs to happen. But, the unfortunate mix of it all and what we were struggling with, we had had in a plan, a slow plan to close by this Saturday, is the employees. So we just ended up having a meeting with, we just don't have a lot of information and because everything's moving so quickly to give to them on how to secure them in the very near future. Most of these folks that work for us can't live, can't live without one check. And we don't know if there's one check in the next nine weeks.”

Smith says his restaurants will offer take-out for customers for the foreseeable future.

Two blocks up Front Street at the Front Street Brewery, management had already put procedures in place to limit the number of customers and add separation between the tables. Ellie Craig is the restaurant’s Community Relations Manager. 

“Putting the public safety over profits for us. Each seat in this restaurant is worth a lot of money to us and to reduce that substantially hurts us. But ultimately we have a responsibility to our community and our friends and our family to do the right thing. So we will fall in compliance with the Governor's wishes and close at 5:00 PM and, have a staff meeting about where we go from here.”

It’s the staff who will feel the pinch. It remains unclear what sort of federal or state support will be offered to those part-time and full time service workers. 

“The last thing that we ever want to do is close our doors. We have all put our blood, sweat and tears into this business, this family, this environment, this community. If we can provide our employees with some sort of federal assistance, through this closure, then we'd rather that then continue to operate under the parameters that we're operating under right now.”

“It's horrible. I mean, it doesn't get any, any worse for businesses, for people.”

That’s Brian Ballard, owner for the Pour Taproom on Front Street. He plans to sell food and beer as take-out, for as long as he can. 

“We're going to do everything in our power, that we're allowed to do to stay, at least getting some revenue coming in the door. Make sure that my staff is fed. I ordered a lot of food, making sure that we can do curbside delivery at some point. Just trying to keep the revenue coming in the door so we can get through this.”

Gov. Cooper says the state is working on waiving some requirements for collecting unemployment benefits, so restaurant workers could quickly receive such benefits. 

Copper Penny Assistant Manager Matthew Grove says they are all still figuring it out.

“Yeah, for sure. I mean, if they haven't planned ahead or budgeted, you know, who knows, there might not be an end, an end in sight for right now. We don't know. So we'll do what we can to help them out and things like that. But as far as staffing goes, again, we're not, we're not exactly sure yet.”

“It's horrible. It's an apocalypse.”

Lector Bennett is an owner of Cape Fear Wine and Beer on Front Street.

“Well, you know, means that I'm going to be doing a lot less business. You know, we're going to be selling beer and wine to go”

Vince Winkel, WHQR News.

Area Resources:

New Hanover County Public Health Coronavirus Call Center: (910) 798-6800

New Hanover County Updates and Health Informationwww.Health.NHCgov.com/Coronavirus

New Hanover County info about closures and virtual options (this is also available on our Health.NHCgov.com/Coronavirus website in the tab “County Operations and Facility Updates”: https://news.nhcgov.com/news-releases/2020/03/new-hanover-county-shares-enhanced-guidance-to-reduce-risk-update-on-covid-19-planning/

Library resources (virtual and online reservation of books): NHCLibrary.org

Unemployment Helphttps://des.nc.gov/apply-unemployment/

Medicaid and Food and Nutrition Services online: Epass.NC.gov, or call 910-798-3500 (that is our local Health and Human Services number)

Disaster Coalitionhttps://www.newhanoverdisastercoalition.org/

North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services COVID-19 info:

https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/public-health/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19-response-north-carolina

Centers for Disease Control:  https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html