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Area restaurants hit hard by social distancing due to virus

In an empty Whiskey Jar on a mostly deserted Downtown Mall, owner Will Richey on Monday said he thinks many local restaurants will not make it through the coronavirus.

“A couple snow days in January, February can ruin your month, bring you to the brink of not making it, and here we are talking about a minimum of two weeks,” Richey said. “It’s a really sad and difficult place for all of us to be.”

A number of local restaurants, downtown and elsewhere in the Charlottesville area, are closing or switching to solely takeout and delivery to assist in social distancing recommendations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Monday, there have been at least 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, including two deaths, in Virginia. There is one confirmed case in the Charlottesville area, a woman in her late 50s who works at the University of Virginia Women’s Center.

The Virginia Department of Health and other experts are encouraging everyone to stay at home, if possible.

“Social distancing is going to be the best thing that we can do right now to help prevent the spread of this,” said Kathryn Goodman, spokeswoman for the Thomas Jefferson Health District.

Richey said Whiskey Jar, Revolutionary Soup and The Bebedero will be doing takeout, curbside pickup and delivery of their food.

“We’re not even using the c word — closing — we’re pausing the seating,” he said. “The doors are open limited hours, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Basically, we want to provide food for people to take home for dinner for their families.”

Salaried staff at the three restaurants will stay on, Richey said, and he’s working on promotions, such as gift card sales, that would go toward some pay for hourly employees.

“If we just had to close and I wasn’t worried about the staff, we would just close and sit this out, and pay the minimal cost of electricity and things like that,” he said. “But because we want to keep our staff employed, they need it, they can’t afford to give up their pay just because we have to do this, so we’re trying to get clever.”

The Charlottesville 29, a website that is based on the question that if there were just 29 restaurants in Charlottesville, what would be the ideal 29, is keeping a running list of local restaurants that will no longer serve patrons on site.

The website’s founder, Simon Davidson, said many restaurants are in grave danger of going out of business, and he started to brainstorm last week about ideas to try to help. First, he decided to post a list of restaurants where people can buy gift cards.

“The idea being to encourage folks, you’re going to go to these restaurants later this year anyway, if you’re a regular at them, just pay now for a check you would have paid later anyway,” he said. “That would inject some cash flow into the restaurants in the short term and hopefully help them stay afloat and sort of flatten the curve of their losses.”

He also decided to make a list of restaurants that have decided to close their seating, and is planning to update the website to reflect which restaurants are going to have takeout and/or delivery available.

“People are going to be self-quarantining, social distancing, and with restaurants closing or with people not wanting to go to restaurants, the thought is to encourage folks to sort of get in a habit, maybe a daily habit, of injecting a bright spot in their day by having a restaurant meal at home, and that, hopefully, will help restaurants stay afloat,” Davidson said.

According to signs posted on their doors, Tilman’s and Sal’s Caffe Italia are closed until further notice, and Citizen Burger Bar is “closed indefinitely.”

Kate Ellwood, a former general manager at Citizen Burger Bar, has set up a GoFundMe to help local restaurant workers, which will be able to start giving money to individuals on March 24. She’s also put together a Facebook page with resources for workers.

“It’s so very important for the community to rally around each other to care for each other, and to support the local small-business community,” she said.

Hunter Smith, president and head brewer at Champion Brewing Company, said Champion and Brasserie Saison will be doing takeout and delivery of food, beer and wine to help keep salaried employees paid, and that he’s hoping to create a pool from the delivery takeout revenue to be able to pay hourly employees.

“We can’t in good conscience encourage people to gather in one indoor location, so we’re not doing that anymore, at least through March,” he said.

Champion also will have a food truck located at different places. Updates will be posted on its Facebook page.

Rick Wampler, co-owner of Charlottesville’s Draft Taproom, said Sunday night that he’s working to help employees find temporary jobs during temporary closure of the restaurant.

“We let them know that we’re committed to reopening with everyone still on board, and we know that means we’ve got to try to fill those gaps and try to get them a paycheck,” Wampler said.

Starting Wednesday, The Local and Junction restaurants will be offering 10 meal options for a flat cost of $10 each, available for curbside pick-up or delivered for free. According to an email, 100% of sales will go to hourly employees

“On top of providing economic stability for all of our employees, any tips that customers provide will be considered a ‘donation’ and allow us to offer free meals to those in the community that cannot afford the $10 option,” Mark Lungociu, the general manager of The Local Restaurant and Catering, said in an email.

Some fast-food restaurants, such as Chick-fil-A and company-owned McDonalds, are closing their dining rooms but still operating drive-thrus.

“We know these are challenging times, but we’ll continue to do our best to serve you,” Chick-fil-A said in a statement.


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