Week Two Of Restaurant Shut-Downs Brings Reason For Hope For Some - 27 East

Week Two Of Restaurant Shut-Downs Brings Reason For Hope For Some

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A lineup for takeout at Estia's Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor on Saturday.

A lineup for takeout at Estia's Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor on Saturday.

A lineup for takeout at Estia's Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor on Saturday.

A lineup for takeout at Estia's Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor on Saturday. Steve Kotz

Jobs Lane Ristorante in Southampton Village was closed to diners on Sunday evening, but offering takeout.   DANA SHAW

Jobs Lane Ristorante in Southampton Village was closed to diners on Sunday evening, but offering takeout. DANA SHAW

Jobs Lane Ristorante in Southampton Village was closed to diners on Sunday evening, but offering takeout.   DANA SHAW

Jobs Lane Ristorante in Southampton Village was closed to diners on Sunday evening, but offering takeout. DANA SHAW

authorMichael Wright on Mar 24, 2020

After a week of forced closures that sent many of their staff struggling to navigate overloaded the state unemployment process, the South Fork’s restaurant owners are wrestling to persevere, via takeout orders.

Empty grocery store shelves and the early stages of cabin fever starting set in has sent fair numbers of local shut-ins in search of meals prepared by expert cooks. In New York City, the takeout menus at some of what are normally the city’s most exclusive restaurants have resulted in long lines outside their pick-up stands — and criticisms for violations of social distancing guidelines.

Local restaurateurs may long for such problems but have found a market for their takeout offerings.

“We are trying to support local businesses as much as we can,” said Stacy Dimon of Southampton, while she waited for takeout food she had ordered from the Plaza Cafe’s food truck just off Hill Street in Southampton Village on Wednesday, March 18. “We went to Paul’s yesterday. This was convenient for me today. Sip’n Soda is on our list.”

Plaza Cafe owner and chef Douglas Gulija said that, unlike the grocery stores, his suppliers have said they have all the foodstuffs and paper goods their customers are seeking in ample supply. He said he planned to appeal to the village for permission to park his food truck at a local beach parking lot.

“This will help,” Mr. Gulija said of the food truck, which he had just begun using this year on Wednesday. “Hopefully, it catches on and people are still able to leave their homes to come out.”

Some restaurants have seen brisk business at times. On Saturday morning, the food cart outside Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor had a line of cars waiting to pick up coffee and breakfast.

Up the street, one of the hamlet’s anchor businesses was handing off bags of sushi on a regular basis.

“We are doing a little bit better than I thought we would, actually,” said Jesse Matsuoka, a partner in the Sen and K Pasa restaurants in Sag Harbor. “I’m still able to employ about half my staff at Sen, which is great. Over at K Pasa, we’re on a skeleton crew, just two people, a brother and sister who live together, so we don’t have any cross-contamination.”

Still, the company has started a GoFundMe page to raise money for its employees who were laid off — much as many renowned restaurant groups in New York City have done — and has raised nearly $10,000 this past week. Mr. Matsuoka said they are also providing ready-made meals for all their current and former staff out of the kitchens of the two restaurants.

Nearby restaurant Tutto Il Giorno has also turned to GoFundMe to support employees forced out of work by the closures. It has raised more than $21,000 in the last week.

Elsewhere, some restaurant owners are finding reasons for hope that takeout will be able to at least keep their business on life support through the crisis, until government assistance to small businesses can be received. Some have even seen reason to expand their takeout offerings.

“We finally have a day to reflect on this whirlwind of a week,” Stone Creek Inn manager Gabrielle Walsh told customers in an emailed note on Monday. “Like you, there were moments we all felt overwhelmed, emotional, anxious, exhausted and really cold (remember the truck is outside!). However, we must always find the silver lining in any and every situation. The wine glass is always half full and the sun still rises even after the darkest of nights.

“We had, dare I say it, fun this weekend!” she added. “We all got into a groove and by Sunday we developed an entirely new system of restaurant operations.”

The fine-dining restaurant has moved all its takeout operations to a food truck now parked in the restaurants typically full parking lot. After a week of takeout-only, the restaurant has expanded its hours going forward, adding lunch preparations starting at noon on the weekends.

The restaurant industry news website Eater.com has tracked the devastation to the business in New York City, from a steep decline in business at Chinese food restaurants when the pandemic was still localized in that country, to the tens of thousands of layoffs and the struggle by some of the world’s most famous and celebrated culinary experts to stay viable through takeout food.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has posted an advisory to its site that takeout food transactions are considered safe from transmission concerns, as long as prudent precautions are taken. The assessment states that the likelihood of novel coronavirus being transmitted from one person to another through the preparation and passing of food from restaurant to customer is extremely low.

The agency said it is not aware of any instances of such transmission and offered the advice that a customer picking up food simply wash their hands after touching a delivery bag in which a food order is given to them.

Restaurateurs spotlighted that their industry was already one of the most hygienically controlled businesses, and that basic precautions are being doubled down, with face masks and regular sanitizing a key to keeping customers trusting of their product.

“We need to be organized, and clean and stay positive and keep a smile on,” Mr. Matsuoka said. “These are extremely hard times.”

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