Can Vermont restaurants weather a COVID winter?

Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 4:07 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 13, 2021 at 4:53 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Restaurants are one of the many types of businesses feeling the burden of the pandemic. Restrictions were recently tightened for safety and current capacity restrictions mean only households can sit at a table together.

In Essex, the Black Flannel Brewery and restaurant opened its doors on July 1.

“During the pandemic, right smack in the middle,” owner Chris Kessler said.

Not the ideal time to open but Kessler says the community showed up.

“I think that’s one of the positive things about opening during COVID,” Kessler said, “I think people are sympathetic to your situation.”

Currently, the restaurant is open most of the week for takeout and in-person dining under the governor’s current executive order of one household per table.

But other restaurants are going a different route.

“We are not open for the winter,” said Sam Tolstoi of Manhattan Pizza.

Manhattan Pizza in downtown Burlington had outdoor dining and takeout over the summer.

“We were able to survive,” Tolstoi said. “We sort of broke even for the summer.”

They say for community safety and because of finances, they are waiting until it’s warmer to reopen.

“Once you open one or two days a week, you got to have all your utilities at full throttle, you got to have staff. There is just a lot more overhead even if you are open a little bit,” Tolstoi said.

And they are not alone, as some other restaurants are taking an extended holiday break.

“Many restaurants are assessing their operations currently,” said Amy Spear of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. “Do they want to stay with just a takeout mode? Do they want to continue in-person dining?”

Spear says the months after the holidays are already tough, and the pandemic isn’t making it any easier with no tourism and a tight economy.

“There has been a major shift since November and maybe fear they are facing the darkest days of the pandemic as we go into January,” Spear said.

But restaurants I talked with say they believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“We will be here when the world wakes back up,” Tolstoi said.

“We are confident that we are going to make it through the pandemic to the other side,” Kessler said. “I think things are really going to open up strongly for us when we do.”

Numbers are not exactly clear statewide or in Burlington, but I’m told a survey will go out soon in the Queen City to get a better idea of who is hibernating and who won’t be open.

Restaurants like Manhattan Pizza tell me they were able to get federal funding and without it, they feel it wouldn’t be good for them. But new restaurants like Black Flannel say they have gotten very little as they have no numbers from last year to compare to-- so no money.

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