Tri-Town restaurants and grocers feel effects of virus, state mandates

Mar 17, 2020

Around the Tri-Town, restaurants and grocers are reacting to Gov. Baker’s orders that all restaurants will be takeout-only and gatherings larger than 25 are banned until April 7 to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

While restaurants are trying to make the best of it by capitalizing on takeout orders, many will suffer as a result of the loss of in-person dining. Grocers, on the other hand, are adjusting to a higher number of orders, while handling unique demands on stocking.  

Turk’s Seafood in Mattapoisett will provide takeout through their barsliders, but the staff will be cut in half because it doesn’t need servers. 

Danielle Guillemette, a server at Turk’s, said that she is just starting to pay her bills again, and is now laid off only two weeks after the restaurant opened for the season.

In Rochester, Matt’s Blackboard will face drastic changes as it switches to takeout only, including cutting about 75% of its staff. 

For employee Sarah Buckstrom, the governor’s announcement caused mixed emotions. She was “happy they are taking precautions,” but said it is hard when you are losing pay.

“We do a good business in takeout, but it will have an impact,” said Buckstrom and fellow employee Jessica Mattos, adding that they’ve already seen a decrease in sales since last week.  

Because a lot of the clientele is elderly, the restaurant plans to implement a curbside delivery system for customers. 

Mattos and Buckstrom said the layoff decisions were tough but involved giving more shifts to full-timers and focusing layoffs on high schoolers who are living with their parents and don’t have bills.

While many businesses will take a hit, some are trying to adapt. 

Kate Ross, the owner of Kate’s Simple Eats in Marion, figured Baker’s order would come down, but “not so drastically and for so long.”

Online ordering will help sustain her business. Roughly 70% of her customers eat at the shop, but she is already seeing an increase in online orders. 

To help customers, Kate’s now offers curbside delivery, online payment and home delivery if necessary, for an extra fee.

Ross said she is “touched by the outpouring for support” from the community, with people ordering online and buying gift certificates.

The owner is keeping a skeleton crew to fill takeout orders and will “try and weather the storm” to keep staff working. 

Although Kate’s may take a hit during the closure, Ross is also giving back to the community.

She announced on March 17 via Facebook that a free student menu will be offered starting the following day for children in need, no questions asked. 

The Inn on Shipyard Park made the best of the circumstances and hosted its St. Patrick’s Day celebration a day early on March 16 for those who wanted to eat out on one of the last days before the restaurant’s closure.

Owner Andrea Perry said she stocked up for the celebration and she doesn’t want it to go to waste. She had originally planned to offer takeout, but later decided to close for the duration of the order. As of March 18 the restaurant is closed. 

She said she wanted to support the artists that were slated to perform at the restaurant in the near future and scheduled them for the restaurant’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

Although she knows that this closure will result in a lot of loss for her employees, she said “hopefully something gets put in place for employees” at the state level to cover losses.

Kate Sudofsky owns Walrus and Captain bistro and runs the restaurant alongside her husband Mike. 

He said that, although he expects to lose business for people that drink and eat at the bistro, established health-food options will double or triple during this time because it’s popular among kids who are now out of school.

Mike said that it’s good that this measure from the governor came quickly because “maybe the sooner we get through it and get this going, it will actually help.” 

On the flip side, Mike worries about how customers will react and the gross profits. 

“We have a feeling it's going to be very positive, but it’s up to us to staff right” for the circumstances, said Mike.

At the other end of the spectrum, grocers have benefitted in some ways from the virus. 

Multiple customers came in and out of the Marion General Store as Angela Ross spoke of how the virus has impacted business.

On one hand, the store had to close “Betty’s Corner,” a meeting place for many Marionites. On the other hand, she is surprised at the support of the community. 

In the background, fresh produce was being stocked, and the aisles of snacks and medication were full.

At one point over the March 13 weekend, Ross said that the store was the only place in the area that had toilet paper, chicken and beef on their shelves.

She said that the store will “make sure that we can stay open as long as we can and have supplies.”

Fieldstone Market in Marion has seen a fairly steady stream of customers in the last week. 

Owner Arnie Johnson said the store resorted to driving its own trucks to suppliers to keep up with demand and brought on seasonal college students that are now home to cover shifts of older staff who are worried about contracting the virus.

The market started a curbside delivery program on March 16 for those who don’t want to shop in-person. Customers can call ahead their orders to be prepared and pick them up curbside. 

In the case of a national shutdown, Johnson said that they will probably close, resulting in food waste. 

If it comes to that, Johnson said that the store will have some loss “but they will hopefully mitigate it.” In the meantime, it won’t cut back on stocking its shelves.

In Rochester, Rob Ciardi of Friends Market said that the coronavirus has had an impact on his market, though not through the governor’s orders. 

Sales are high in part because the small grocery store now offers “products that you can’t find anywhere else.” 

While the business is great, Ciardi said his staff are overworked and “battling to get shelves filled.” 

The governor's orders only impacted the hot shelf, which must now be prepackaged. 

Friends plans to implement a home delivery of curbside pickup system as well, something that it hopes will last after coronavirus panic has subsided. 

“The customers appreciate that we’re here,” Ciardi said.