PROVIDENCE — After Governor Gina M. Raimondo agreed to lift restaurant curfews recently, some in the hospitality industry saw a slight glimmer of hope. The weather has often been too cold for outdoor dining, even for winter-hardened New Englanders. Indoor dining during regular operating hours, at a 50 percent capacity, was a welcome step in a positive direction.
But even so, many popular restaurants are still not seeing a steady wave of customers.
“We just weren’t seeing the numbers,” said Mary Kate Byrne, the vice president of G Hospitality, a downtown Providence-based restaurant group that owns Sarto, the Providence G, and the Rooftop at the Providence G, which have temporarily closed.
So as the pandemic extends into winter, owners of nearly 100 restaurants are biting the bullet and going into hibernation for the season. In some cases, this is the first year they’ve voluntarily shut their doors for what could be several months.
Here are the hibernation plans of a few of Rhode Island’s popular eateries.
Giusto, Commercial Wharf, Newport
“No doubt, this has been a horrible year,” said Kevin O’Donnell, chef and owner of Giusto, a modern Italian spot in the Hammetts Hotel. Menu items include Calabrian style stuffed quahog and casarecce pasta with chicken sugo and black truffle. “Opening a restaurant in a great year is financially challenging enough, let alone during a global pandemic with an economy turned upside,” he said.
Giusto had its last night of service on New Year’s Eve, for what O’Donnell said was for the safety of the guests and staff, as well as “the financial security of the business.”
The restaurant made its debut in September when O’Donnell, a Rhode Island native, moved back to the Ocean State last year after making a name for himself at the popular SRV, an Italian wine bar in Boston.
Even after purchasing outdoor heaters, ultra-clear polycarbonate glass to use as dividers between diners, and additional personal protective gear, O’Donnell said it will take longer than expected to reopen.
“We were originally hoping to open for Valentine’s Day weekend, and although cases are going down and lifting the curfew last week is a step in the right direction — it’s still not enough,” said O’Donnell. “Now we are hopeful to reopen in the beginning of March.”
Simpatico, Narragansett Avenue, Jamestown
It was the middle of Newport Restaurant Week when Amy Barclay, owner of Simpatico, looked at the latest daily COVID-19 numbers.
“I looked at my staff and said, ‘I cannot keep you safe,’” said Barclay. It was Nov. 7 and she closed that night, without knowing when she would be reopening her doors again. “It’s not worth anyone getting COVID-19. And with case numbers rising like they were, there are only so many protocols you can put in until you realize that you just can’t guarantee safety.”
Simpatico, a 235-seat new American restaurant, had a 60 percent to 70 percent drop in sales in 2020 compared to 2019. And Barclay’s staff went from more than 40 people in November 2019 to just 16 people in November 2020, when she shut down. But still, she remains optimistic that Simpatico will be back in full swing, with a reopening planned for April 1.
“Success is keeping your employees safe,” said Barclay. “It’s not always just been about the money. It’s about doing the right thing.”
Barclay said Simpatico will open again for service on April Fool’s Day.
Sarto and the Providence G Pub, Downtown Providence
G Hospitality owns a handful of spots in downtown Providence, including Sarto, a neighborhood-driven Italian restaurant and the Providence G Pub, a modern gastropub. Both locations have now closed for the winter.
Sarto, according to Byrne, the vice president of marketing for the hospitality group, reopened in May when customers were able to sit in patio furniture on the sidewalks in front of the restaurant. But the location relies heavily on nearby events, such as live shows at the Providence Performing Arts Center and expos at the Rhode Island Convention Center — all of which have been canceled. When the temperatures started to dip, so did the interest in indoor dining.
Sarto closed their doors temporarily in October with the exception of some special events, such as small rehearsal dinners of up to 25 people.
“We just weren’t seeing the numbers,” said Byrne. She does not have a definite plan for when the location will reopen. “We’ll wait and see what happens with other types of events in the area.”
The Providence G Pub was closed for much of 2020 until it reopened in September with an outdoor beer garden decked with bistro lights and heat lamps. But at the end of November, the weather became too cold for many diners, and the large indoor space wasn’t drawing a crowd. The pub shut its doors with the plan to reopen at the end of March.
Until then, Byrne said the Rooftop at the Providence G is open until midnight each night, and offers a new, elevated dinner menu.
T&T’s 133 Club, Warren Avenue, East Providence
The neighborhood bar, which opened in 1967 and serves dishes such as Portugese calamari sauteed in spicy buffalo sauce with chouriço, has tables that seat about 25 diners. The remaining seats — 20 of them — are at the bar. Before the pandemic, customers would play rounds of pool while listening to live entertainment.
But before the bars were shut down, Crevier said the owners spent thousands to outfit the place with plexiglass to separate staff from patrons, in addition to movable glass dividers to separate customers from one another. ch other. T&T’s wasn’t exactly busy, Crevier said, but it was “enough to keep the lights on.”
At first, the owners shut the bar and had people sit only at the tables, but Crevier said it wasn’t worth it. They closed temporarily right before Christmas.
“We followed every single guideline. Every one,” said Crevier. “I think places like ours who obey the rules should not be punished for those who do not.”
Nolan’s Corner Pub, Valley, Providence
Breandan McCaughey, the owner of Nolan’s Corner Pub, said he would be able to reopen under Rhode Island’s current pandemic-related restrictions. But, he said it wouldn’t make sense to do so — curfew or not.
The pub’s name speaks for itself — it’s six or so tables seat about 24 customers. But because the state is allowing only a single household to sit together, McCaughey said he could have six people come in by themselves and he would be at capacity.
“We can’t seat people who don’t live in the same household together. That seems pretty important for mitigating the spread of the virus, and I have no intention of violating that policy,” said McCaughey, who said he received about $25,000 in grants from the state and paycheck protection program loans. “Also, February is traditionally the slowest month for sales, so I’m not really in a rush.”
McCaughey said he is eyeing the beginning of March as a possible grand reopening, with the hope that he will soon be able to use outdoor seating again, if the weather permits. But the decision to stay closed, he said, is supported by his five remaining employees.
“None of them are champing at the bit to be face-to-face with customers right now.”