NEWINGTON – As they grapple with an even deeper cut to business due to tightened covid-19 restrictions and seasonal setbacks, restaurant owners in this small suburb of Hartford are by no means settling down for a long winter’s nap. In fact, they’ve buckled in and entered survival mode.
For some Newington restaurants, that has meant inventing new dine-in spaces, installing partitions and changing up the dining room layout altogether. For others, it’s getting accustomed to dining delivery service partners like GrubHub and Uber Eats, while dreaming up creative specials that combine cocktails and meals in one take-home package.
“We’re just trying to hang in there and serve as many people as we can while keeping everybody happy,” GoldBurgers Manager Jared Linn said Dec. 30, as the popular downtown eatery entered its ninth month of takeout-only.
Owner Matt Crowley, who also owns the adjacent breakfast spot 5 and Dime Canteen, pivoted his operations to better serve the community early last spring at the start of the pandemic. Both eateries have provided countless meals to frontline workers and others in the time since.
Nearby TJ’s on Cedar owner Tim Jorel closed the patio for the season to push indoor dining, takeout and delivery.
“Everything is going ok,” Jorel said. “It’s just been kind of tough working with the restrictions right now.”
Customers have been taking advantage of special game day packages of craft beer, wings and pizza. These are promoted on Facebook and other social media.
For restaurants that have been around as long as Steve’s Place on Market Square, it’s customer loyalty that is carrying them through winter 2021.
“We’ve been hanging in there,” Owner Doug Kuzoian said this week. “We’ve been here for 50 years, so a lot of people have been very supportive of us, thank God.
He estimated business is now about 75% takeout or delivery and 25% eat-in.
“Our customers have been unbelievable,” Kuzoian added. “We’ve been very fortunate. Some of these other places that are newer didn’t have much time to build up a strong customer base before the pandemic hit.”
He feels for newer restaurant owners like Olajide Bello, who had a dream to share homegrown Nigerian cuisine with the community when the coronavirus entered the U.S.
Bello’s Naija Restaurant across town on the Berlin Turnpike is being challenged in so many ways.
“Everything started right after I signed my lease,” he explained. “There was no way to back out.”
The varied menu at Naija features specialties like grilled fish with plantains and yam porridge. Specialty imports like Malta Guinness and Alomo Bitters are also sold in a small market on-site
Bello has not had much business thus far, but has high hopes for the future.
“You just have to keep going,” he said.
South End Café & Pastry Shop on Brockett Street would typically be packed for the holiday season, with special orders for cookie trays and breads nonstop between Nov. and Jan.
“It’s been busy but definitely not your typical holiday for a bakery,” owner Dawn Ciarcia said. “We definitely felt it.”
Customers are adhering well to restrictions, wearing masks, staying six feet apart and limited indoor capacity.
Still, Ciarcia admitted, times are tough in the food service business these days.
“We’re all in the same boat,” she said. “Everyone is taking it day by day. You’re getting regular clientele and hopefully picking up new ones. You have to watch costs because products have gone up in price, then you also have utility and rent. When all is said and done - you pay yourself last. I think we’ll make it through this if everyone stays strong and sticks together.”
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.