HOPE FOR THE HOLIDAYS
By Krista Pfunder
Poised to close their doors to on-site dining on December 16, restaurants were given a last-minute holiday gift: a temporary restraining order halting the dining ban and allowing Anne Arundel County restaurants to continue welcoming diners.
“This was a good day for us,” says Jeremy Black, owner of Federal House Bar and Grille in Annapolis, of the ruling handed down by Circuit Court Judge William Mulford last week.
The injunction was introduced by four restaurant owners, representing Smashing Grapes and Blackwall Hitch and Heroes Pub in Annapolis, La Posta Pizza and Adam’s Taphouse and Grille in Severna Park.
“This injunction doesn’t do a lot for ownership, but helps our employees at a critical time of year,” Black says. “My employees are now out shopping for Christmas.”
The needs of staff—and their families—are at the forefront of restaurant owners’ minds, they say.
“It allows us to keep paying our employees longer as there’s still no reasonable relief from congress for unemployment benefits,” says Bobby Jones, co-owner of The Point Crab House and Grill in Arnold and Ketch 22 in North Beach. “We’re going to take care of our staff as long as we can.”
“The fear of not knowing what is going to happen, and having no ability to affect the outcome is scary,” says BJ Hines, a bartender at Waterman’s Tavern in Edgewater and dad to a pre-kindergartner. “My main worry is for everyone who does not have a financial cushion. Some are struggling to pay rent and afford groceries.”
The injunction came as welcome news to restaurant staffs, but its 11th hour announcement also made for a scramble. Restaurants had already prepared to shift to carry-out only operations.
“We planned to close Tuesday evening, so we didn’t open Wednesday, except for carryout,” Black says.
When the indoor and outdoor dining bans were reversed, Black’s Federal House staff quickly went to work preparing for the coming days.
“We had to make sure we had staff for the next few days and got food orders placed,” Black says.
“So many businesses had already taken down tents and not placed food and alcohol orders,” says Hines at Waterman’s Tavern. “We didn’t pay for the NFL football package to be on our TVs based on the fact that no one would be there to watch.”
“Ordering food was an issue,” Jones tells us. “We order fresh food daily. We had ordered light expecting a slow carryout business with no seated dining.”
Quickly adapting to change is something restaurant teams have become experts at during the pandemic.
“Restaurants groups have had to become nimble and adaptable in an entirely different way over the past eight months,” says James King, founder and CEO of Titan Hospitality Group — which owns Smashing Grapes and Blackwall Hitch. “We were preparing for a long closure only to change direction on a moment’s notice.”
Keeping the count of coronavirus cases at bay has been a moving target for local, state and federal leaders. In Anne Arundel County, there have been 282 new cases as of Dec. 18, hospital occupancy remains above the target of 70% and there have been 316 COVID-19 deaths in the county.
The restaurant industry, it seems, sees this restraining order as a balance.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is an extinction event for restaurants,” King says. “This (injunction) gives us and other restaurants in our area a fighting chance to provide income to our employees.”
A hearing scheduled for December 28 will revisit the order to determine the fate of in-person dining in the county. Until then, restaurants can continue to welcome customers at reduced capacity—25% full inside and 50% full outside.