The push to dine local as over 600 Connecticut restaurants close down amid pandemic

Business

WETHERSFIELD, Conn. (WTNH) — The pandemic has hit the food industry really hard. More than 600-restaurants and banquet facilities have closed down in our state, and consumer confidence is low.

Now, there is a push to not only shop local, but to “dine local.” 

Phil Barnett, owner of the Wood N’ Tap in Rocky Hill, says it’s all about messaging from leaders.

“We’d really love to see our Governor let guests know it’s safe to be inside,” Barnett said.

For restaurants, consumer confidence is everything.

“We’ve invested well over a couple hundred thousand dollars between tents, heaters, dividers; plexiglass isn’t any cheaper. It’s been astronomical; our fixed expenses aren’t getting any less,” added Barnett.

Scott Dolch, the Executive Director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, says, “Our restaurants in normal times give back so much to their community, now they need the reciprocal.”

The restaurant association would like to see the state do more than $5,000 grants for businesses that have lost more than 20% of their bottom line.

“10 or 20,000 dollars to a restaurant can help make it a couple of months and help pay bills on the debt they’ve carried over for eight months,” Dolch said.

The association points to programs other Northeast states are offering. Nearby, Rhode Island gives businesses up to $30,000.

Bryce Hardy, owner of The Charles in Old Wethersfield, says he and his staff are committed to safety; “We’ve created the best environment for folks to dine.”

The Charles opened in June during the pandemic, investing in UV lights in the air filtration system, and socially distant, yet cozy, features like the fireplace are helping.

But down the street, a lack of to-go orders and fear means the luck at “Lucky Lou’s” may have run out. The owner, Lucas Kyriakos, says he may close until spring.

Kyriakos said, “Once the weather wasn’t allowing customers to sit outside my business fell 90%.”

In an effort to help restaurants and shops, the old Wethersfield Shop Keepers Association is extending hours on Thursdays during December.

Hardy is one of 22 members of the association, and he told us, “People can come by while socially distanced, have a fun night with their families while supporting businesses.”

The group is also starting a passport program. Customers can take a form and have it stamped as they visit businesses through the season. A full passport can be redeemed for discounts and savings.
All of these home town spots say no matter how you slice it – it’s about survival this holiday season.

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