CHARLESTOWN — Business has been good at the Breachway Grill since owner Craig Marr closed the dining room and switched to takeout service, but he still worries about how long his restaurant can survive under the current coronavirus restrictions.
Marr, who is also president of the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce, said he is learning as he goes.
“This is unprecedented,” he said. “I’m sure people during World War II went through a great struggle, but this is a different type of thing because it’s more social. Other than helping each other out and supporting each other in any way we can.”
Marr was planning to kick off a Restaurant Week promotion on March 19, which he canceled when restaurants were directed to close their dining rooms on March 17.
“That’s kind of our kickoff for the season,” he said. “That always brings a lot of new faces in. If we look at our budget forecast, that’s the week where we see the line starting to go up.”
Marr said his customers were still coming to the restaurant for takeout.
“That’s really not a sustainable model for us, but every little bit helps and that’s what they’re saying: ‘Hey we’re going to order food from you, because we need you to be there when this is over,’” he said.
With the dining room closed, Marr said there is no work for servers and bartenders.
“We’re taking, obviously, all the front of the house people off the schedule, waiters, bartenders,” he said. “In essence, we’ve told them ‘go ahead and contact the state for unemployment. Certainly, you’re eligible.' We encourage that. There’s really four salaried people — myself, my chef, my sous chef and my deli chef. So we’ve kept them on as of right now to work on the deli, the takeout. The two chefs are rotating in the kitchen, so we’re usually running a one-, two-man line, just to do takeout food, and then we have the deli open. It’s not dine in, so that’s open kind of as normal.”
Marr said he had decided to continue the off-season prepared-dinner special offered at his Breachway Gourmet deli next door.
“We’ve had, all off-season anyway, a prepared dinner, buy one get one for free,” he said. “I kind of thought ‘Well, I don’t know if I can continue to do that, because it’s not a money-maker, obviously,’ but we said ‘You know what, this is not the time to stop it,’ so we kept that offer going. So if somebody comes in and gets a prepared dinner to go, it’s buy one get one.”
Marr and Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Heather Paliotta were preparing to email the chamber’s 150 members, asking for information on their operating hours during the coronavirus restrictions.
“She’s going to send that out with a questionnaire on it saying ‘let us know,’” Marr said.
Paliotta said she was keeping chamber members informed of the latest financial developments.
“We’re blasting out updates constantly about the coronavirus through the SBA and I’m dealing very closely with the town hall and the E.I.C. [Economic Improvement Commission],” she said.
Marr said he believed the state and the town were doing the best they could in a difficult and rapidly evolving situation.
“I think something like this, nobody really knows exactly the direction it is going,” he said. “So I think they’re dealing with the situation as best they can in a very unknown situation. I think the town has got less of a role. They’ve been following the state’s lead, and they’ve been very good in communicating with me, and, I assume, other business owners .... I think the communication from the town has been fantastic.”
In Charlestown, where many businesses make most of their money during the busy summer season, there is a concern that tourism might be affected, and, in a worst-case scenario, that some local businesses won’t even make it that far.
“My concern as a business owner is, how far does it go?” Marr said. “We can hang on for a couple of weeks in this no-business, quarter-business takeout cycle, but we can’t last a whole lot longer than that, and certainly, if it impacts the summer, I figure a lot of restaurants will never open their doors back up again. From the end of the winter, as it is, your coffers are already pretty empty. You’re kind of dealing with savings at that point, and they’re dwindling rather quickly to try and keep the few people we have on payroll paid … I know I read the Small Business Administration, SBA, is offering small business loans, and I’m sure we’re more than likely going to have to apply for it.”
Paliotta, who organizes the Memorial Day parade and the popular Seafood Festival, said she was waiting to see how the virus and its accompanying restrictions developed.
“I’m not going to spend one single penny on the parade or the seafood festival,” she said. “If this ever went into the summer, and the seafood festival is what keeps the chamber going, so I can’t just cut back. The Memorial Day parade is such a great event in the town and right now, I emailed my committee. We were going to do a contest for kids … what Memorial Day means to them ... but I just told them that we should really hold off and focus on it for next year, because these kids don’t even know if they’re going back to school ....
"I’m 48 years old. I’ve been through blizzards, I’ve been through mini-hurricanes here and there, but I never thought I’d see something like this.”
Despite having to deal with his own financial worries, Marr said he would donate meals to local residents who needed them.
“If they’re in that situation, by all means call and we’ll get you covered,” he said. “We haven’t had any of that yet, but it’s still early. I think we’ll probably repeat that message to some degree, because the further out it gets, especially for the elderly, the more difficult they’re going to find it to get any food.”