Restaurants are recalibrating (again) amid COVID surge

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Restaurants in Charleston continue to feel the impact of omicron, with more than 10,000 new cases confirmed on January 21. Staff shortages are still an issue, and the increase in COVID cases has made the situation even more difficult. Indoor dining remains open for many restaurants, but at the cost of changing opening hours or operating with a small team.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Babas co-owner Edward Crouse said in an email. “Nighttime (or weekday) restaurant hours across the city have been gutted.”

Babas co-owners Edward Crouse and Marie Stitt

Early Bird Diner, for example, started posting daily hours on Instagram “due to a lack of staff.”

On the other side of the Ravenel Bridge, Little Miss Ha has moved its opening to 12 p.m. every day to “allow [its] very hardworking and small staff to serve you better when [it] is open.”

In the worst case, restaurants had to close completely.

On January 6, Jackrabbit Filly announced via Instagram that it would be closing for the day and the next day only offered take-out orders “due to serious concerns among [its] Staff.” But on January 8, the restaurant announced, “We have made the difficult decision to close for the rest of the weekend.

“Talking to the staff, they felt uncomfortable working,” co-owner and chef Shuai Wang said. City newspaper. “You don’t want to force your employees to work if they’re not comfortable working in that environment.”

“It’s a privilege that most employees don’t realize – that they never have to make the tough decisions that Corrie and I have to make,” he added. “You just try to do your best, and I hope you make the right decision.”

“I never learned how to react during a pandemic in culinary school.”

Fortunately, the restaurant reopened the following week, continuing normal hours and operations, including its popular Sunday dim sum brunch.

Babas had been lucky not to close its doors or shift its schedules. And according to Crouse, those were the busiest two weeks of the year.

“We’re lucky to be a small company and, even worse, we can get by with a small team,” Crouse said. “But some of these big operations, I can’t imagine.”

“Can you also imagine that with everything going on, the city decided it was time to get rid of our parklet? It was crazy,” Crouse added.

In mid-January, city officials ordered the owners of nearby Babas and Cutty’s to dismantle their outdoor parklets, reportedly after state transportation officials said it was time for the experiment ends on Cannon Street, a state-owned road.

Near Chubby Fish, owner James London has taken precautionary measures to prevent his popular seafood establishment from closing.

London

When rapid home tests were made available, London bought around 250 tests for its staff and takes its staff to get tested at least once a week, he said.

“It takes a lot of time and money. These rapid tests are not cheap,” London added. “But it’s better than closing for a week.”

Chubby Fish has not had to close due to COVID concerns since receiving the rapid tests, and London says that if any of its employees have symptoms they are told to stay home and get well. get tested.

“We run a very tight staff so if we lose two people we will have to shut down,” London said. “We have released a certain product that we support and we want nothing less than that.”

These are just a handful of restaurants in the city impacted by COVID.

Pay It Forward, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping workers in the food and beverage industry, has seen requests for help increase by 400% since December 2021.

Larson

“People are struggling right now,” said general manager Carrie Larson. “I think COVID is tearing restaurant communities apart. Whether someone was sidelined due to COVID exposure, tested positive, or restaurants had to close due to staff shortages, it kind of created this perfect storm of needs. and instability within the industry.

Pay It Forward provides emergency aid to workers in the food and beverage industry. To apply, individuals must work a minimum of 30 hours per week and have worked in the industry for at least six months in Charleston. Once these two requirements are verified, the person is qualified to receive an average grant of $250. Workers who need help can apply for a grant twice.

“For the most part, people can apply and expect a quick turnaround for support,” Larson added. “And we see most of our applicants needing assistance based entirely on COVID, whether they, a dependent or a relative have been sick or have missed hours due to restaurants having to adjust their hours. on duty.”

With the increase in requests from workers in need of assistance, Pay It Forward is “on track” to distribute $10,000 a month, Larson said.

“We really want to be in a good position to help anyone who applies, so we see ourselves this winter really pushing for contributions and for members of our community who are able to donate to support those in need.”

To find out how you can help food and beverage industry workers in need, visit payitforwardcharleston.org.

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