When the coronavirus pandemic forced restaurants to close their dining rooms last week, Zoë Robinson was ready.
“We pivoted right away,” the owner of the Clayton restaurants I Fratellini, Bar Les Frères and Billie-Jean said. “We ordered the carryout containers right away.”
Robinson closed Bar Les Frères and Billie-Jean, and she, longtime chef Ny Vongsaly and a skeleton crew offered takeout and delivery from I Fratellini.
“For a minute, it was exciting,” Robinson said. “You know, that whole can-do (spirit).”
Soon, though, Robinson had second thoughts.
For instance, there were curbside pickup customers who insisted she reach into their car to hand over their order. “We had on gloves,” she said, “but still what’s airborne is in your car.”
And some delivery customers were inviting the driver to come on in. “We’re not coming in,” she said.
On Friday, Robinson ended I Fratellini’s curbside and delivery services. “It wasn’t safe,” she said. “It wasn’t.”
Restaurant critic Ian Froeb tries to capture the two weeks when everything about dining out changed.
While many restaurants continue to offer takeout, curbside pickup and delivery, in recent days several restaurateurs who announced such options have halted them and closed their restaurants until further notice, citing safety as a primary concern.
On Tuesday afternoon, the acclaimed Webster Groves restaurant Olive + Oak and its next-door sibling, the Clover and the Bee, closed.
“Over the past few days it’s becoming very clear that COVID-19 is closing in on (St. Louis) and glaringly obvious that no matter how careful we are in our execution of food handling and carryout service, there is just too much room for error,” a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page said in part. “While the financial hardship our staff will face is devastating, their health comes first.”
Also on Tuesday, the Tower Grove East Persian restaurant Cafe Natasha’s, a fixture of the South Grand dining strip, announced it would close after service on Saturday until further notice “for your health and the health of our team.”
The widely acclaimed Central West End restaurant Vicia said Sunday it was ending its curbside “Family Meal” service.
“It was definitely tough,” chef and owner Michael Gallina said.
Still, that he or a member of his remaining staff might come down with COVID-19 and spread it to the others and their families “made it a little bit easier to make that decision,” Gallina said.
Blueprint Coffee announced Monday it was closing its coffee bars in the Delmar Loop and Lindenwood Park and continuing its roasting operations with only a small team, all owners.
“When the stay-at-home order came out, we really supported that — we felt like it was the right time for that from a public-policy standpoint,” co-owner Mike Marquard said.
“But for the health of our employees, to ask them to come to work in the face of that, that’s just a lot. It’s a lot to carry as an owner from a moral perspective and a safety perspective.”
While Blueprint could have continued as an “essential” business, Marquard said, “we’re not going to kid ourselves. Coffee’s great, but you can get by without it. It’s not like calories.”
When dining rooms shut down last week, Paul and Wendy Hamilton closed Eleven Eleven Mississippi and Vin De Set but offered curbside pickup at PW Pizza and Hamilton’s Urban Steakhouse. The Hamiltons ended those services Monday.
“It had a lot to do with keeping an eye on the safety of our staff, kind of gauging their comfort level on what decisions we were making,” Paul Hamilton said. “And while they were in it for whatever we could do, I kind of sensed that they were getting a little freaked out themselves.”
Hamilton said the restaurants at the downtown west-Lafayette Square border hadn’t seen much takeout traffic. At the St. Louis Hills restaurant Edibles & Essentials, however, takeout and curbside pickup business was booming.
“We had the best week we’ve ever had last week, to be honest with you,” chef and owner Matt Borchardt said.
Still, managing takeout and curbside pickup while also keeping the number of staff and customers inside the space under 10 proved challenging.
Considering the stay-at-home order, Borchardt said: “Why should I be immune to it just because I own a small business and provide a service? I don’t know if that was enough to do my part.”
Borchardt announced that on Monday, Edibles & Essentials would close until further notice. How long can the restaurant hold out?
“Much more than a month is going to be tough,” he said. “Depends on what the Small Business Administration is going to do for us.”
Blueprint Coffee hopes to reopen or become eligible for federal or state assistance by April 2. Meanwhile, according to its closing announcement, about a quarter of employees have paid time off, while others are receiving a stipend.
Robinson has laid off 45 full- and part-time employees. She said she has also cashed in her stocks to pay outstanding bills with her personal money.
“I definitely don’t want to burn my suppliers,” she said, “and the little ones are going to get paid first out of the no money that I have.”
Restaurants that are offering takeout, drive-thru or delivery services during the coronavirus crisis. To add your restaurant: tinyurl.com/v6…
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