MATTHEWS – Restaurants and businesses are already facing the harsh consequences of state and federal coronavirus precautions. They’re not giving up just yet.
After Gov. Roy Cooper ordered the closure of sit-down restaurants March 17 and the Center for Disease Control recommended to limit events to 10 people or less, restaurants and coffee shops cleared their tables and began transitioning to to-go only options.
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In a matter of 24 hours, Mario’s Italian Restaurant owner John Fisichello had to let go of more than half of his 80 staff members, including waitstaff, bussers, hosts and food runners.
“It’s been quite devastating,” Fisichello said. “So many people are very shaken and upset and very scared. People have kids and mortgages, so it’s very unsettling and upsetting to say the least. I feel powerless … I’m probably keeping quite a bit of excess compared to what I really need, but I feel terribly guilty with these full-time management people. I just don’t know what to do with them. Unemployment, I don’t know. It just hit us so quickly.”
In the meantime, Fischello’s remaining staff are answering phones, making food, cleaning the kitchen, manning the restaurant’s new takeout window and delivering orders. Fisichello said he is expanding the delivery radius and is willing to meet people halfway if need be.
He said the best thing the community can do right now is to order takeout or delivery service. After one day, he said the response has been great so far, though he will need to reassess as more information and guidelines come in.
“We have to see how it goes, but in the meantime, I’ve got all these payroll checks out and checks to suppliers out and planning on money coming in that’s not going to come in. It’s a very collapsing situation,” Fisichello said. I’m trying to talk to the bank and explain myself, but it’s pretty blindsiding. I knew things were bad, but you never think it’s going to happen until it does.”
While it is frustrating, Fisichello said he understands the need to keep the community safe, and that is his top priority.
Brakeman’s Coffee and Supply in downtown Matthews announced via Instagram that it would close its doors for the foreseeable future after 5 p.m. March 18 because they believed it was in the best interest of public safety. The post informed customers that the coffee shop would “get creative” to pay their bills for the time being, and management would consider different options.
General manager Caleb White said he and the owners looked at what was happening in other countries with similar situations, like Italy, when making their decision to close.
“A big part of their action steps were not shutting down all businesses soon enough,” White said. “They’d make recommendations, but people were still out and about. It takes one person to walk into the shop and infect three more, and it can only build from there.”
Even taking away the coffee shop’s seating would not reduce the problem because many people can be in the space at one time, including baristas and the owners.
“At the end of the day yesterday, that added up to over 100 people in there, including our staff,” White said. “That’s a lot of chance where something could happen and with the climbing number of cases in Mecklenburg County right now, we just found it was best for us and for the rest of the general public if we did our part to remove ourselves from potentially being contaminated.”
White said he and the owners of Brakeman’s are discussing different options at this time, including grab-and-go pickup with no human contact, selling retail items and coffee online and having a one-person stand with a limited selection of coffee. They also hope to set up a digital tip jar as a way to pay their employees.
While the store is closed, White said the best thing customers can do to help is buy an electronic gift card by emailing info@brake manscoffee.com.
Also located in downtown Matthews are Rob Jacik’s businesses, Carolina Beer Temple and Seaboard Brewing. Jacik said it has been hard so far, but he is utilizing the options he has.
Seaboard Brewing is filling growlers that customers bring in and offering wine delivery within a five-radius of the taproom. Exchange Pizza Depot, located on the same property as Seaboard, is receiving takeout orders and has reduced its pizza prices. Carolina Beer Temple is offering curbside pickup in which staff will deliver to customers’ cars.
So far, Jacik has seen a strong response from the community, with customers making great efforts to support, like leaving generous tips for staff.
“I’m stunned at how strong the response has been,” Jacik said. “I’ve had several customers today tell me that they came in just because we’re a small business and they want to support us.”
Full-time staff is working at both locations, Jacik said. Part-time staff have gotten fewer, if any, hours. No layoffs have happened yet.
“I’m still evaluating and seeing how long things are going to last,” Jacik said. “It may be more beneficial to them to be unemployed so they can collect unemployment benefits. It’s something we’re looking into that we haven’t done yet.”
Jacik is known as a proponent of business and economic growth in downtown Matthews and he hopes to continue being a resource through this uncertainty.
He planned to meet with other business owners to strategize ways to team up.
“I think everyone’s probably in the same boat I’m in,” Jacik said. “Everyone’s scrambling to figure out how they’re going to deal with this over the last 24 hours and we really haven’t had much time to talk to each other.”
“This sucks,” Jacik added. “But we are doing our best to get through this.”
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