COVID-19 presenting a major challenge for Chatham restaurants

Posted 3/27/20

PITTSBORO — Greg Lewis was rather blunt about what the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, and government orders to close dine-in options at restaurants across North Carolina has mean for …

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COVID-19 presenting a major challenge for Chatham restaurants

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PITTSBORO — Greg Lewis was rather blunt about what the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, and government orders to close dine-in options at restaurants across North Carolina has mean for his business.

“It’s an unprecedented situation for the world,” said Lewis, the owner of Pittsboro Roadhouse. “This is something nobody’s ever dealt with in our lifetime.”

Some restaurants have laid off employees. Some have changed their operating hours and menus. And some are trying to serve those in need during what is admittedly a strange time.

Lewis and Pittsboro Roadhouse have done all three. He said he has laid off 34 employees as his operation has lost, by his count, “basically 100 percent of our catering business” and “70 percent of our restaurant business.” Additionally, all scheduled music acts for the Roadhouse for the foreseeable future have been canceled.

“We’re a venue, that’s a big draw for us,” Lewis said. “We had music Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays and they were big draws for us. We’re doing what we can to have our hole not be as deep.”

But the folks at the Roadhouse have pressed on. Lewis shifted the menu to all family-sized meals designed to serve four, available for order and pickup at the Roadhouse.

“I can’t offer my full menu because I’m not doing the amount of sales I used to do,” he said. “What kind of comfort food do people want? If you’re sitting at home having dinner with your family, what will appeal to most of your family? You’ve got to put something on the table to please them all.”

Comfort food it is: barbecue chicken, pot roast, meatloaf, pulled pork, chicken wings and beef brisket, with sides including gouda mac ‘n’ cheese, mashed potatoes and green beans. Lewis added that the Roadhouse has partnered with, or is in the process of partnering with, nearby bakeries to sell baked goods alongside toys and games from nearby Pittsboro Toys.

The Roadhouse and other restaurants like Town Hall Burger & Beer in Briar Chapel have used this opportunity to give back to their communities. Lewis said his restaurant is giving a meal to a family in need, working with the schools, for every two meals purchased, and Town Hall Burger is redirecting the generosity of one its regular patrons.

David Sadeghi, an owner at Town Hall Burger, said a customer came to the restaurant ownership offering $5,000 as a fund for the restaurant’s employees. Working with the anonymous donor, the restaurant’s owners set up a $15,000 fund — $10,000 of which is going to Town Hall Burger employees to help them during the restaurant’s adjusted hours and service and $5,000 for meals cooked for front line employees at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill.

“I think we give them a bit of a smile,” Sadeghi said. “You can’t keep saying you want to be part of the community. You have to act like it, and we’re trying to do that.”

Other restaurants across Chatham have had varying reactions to this new “normal.” Angelina’s Kitchen in Pittsboro said on its website that it has suspended hot food service and is making food to be wrapped and sealed cold or frozen. Nericcio’s Family Restaurant in Siler City is only opening from 3 to 7 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and offering free delivery up to 10 miles from the store.

And starting last Tuesday, The Root Cellar Cafe in Pittsboro closed its doors “through at least the end of the month,” according to a post on its Facebook page, citing “the latest advice from health experts and a desire to keep our staff and customers safe and healthy.” Family-size dinners are still available for pick-up at the restaurant on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Just how long restaurants will have to stay closed to dine-in business and restrict to takeout, curbside and delivery services is unknown — that’s a decision made at the state government level.

“We hope that is a short time,” Sadeghi said. “It’s scary not knowing when this is going to finish up its course.”

Lewis said the situation has brought the best out of people — a customer came in and bought 100 $30 gifts cards for others, he said — and it’s left him a bit philosophical.

“If everybody does a little bit, it everybody helps those around them, everyone will be taken care of,” he said. “If everybody does the next right thing, everything will fall into place. The way to move forward is to just do the next right thing.”

But that hasn’t fixed everything.

“There’s absolutely nothing we can do about it,” Lewis said. “I don’t even know what to think about it. If you think about it too much, it makes you want to cry.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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