‘We screeched to a halt’

The Mod restaurant focuses on recovery during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted 8/7/20

As co-owner mother-and-son team Claudia and Dylan Perry watch restaurants in and around Pittsboro close due to the economic downturn caused by the restrictions brought by the coronavirus, they …

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‘We screeched to a halt’

The Mod restaurant focuses on recovery during COVID-19 pandemic

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As co-owner mother-and-son team Claudia and Dylan Perry watch restaurants in and around Pittsboro close due to the economic downturn caused by the restrictions brought by the coronavirus, they can’t help but wonder if they might be next.

Like many in the industry, their restaurant, The Modern Life Deli & Drink — nicknamed “The Mod” — and the newly added the Other Side, temporarily closed after Gov. Roy Cooper announced March 17 that bars and restaurants would close except for takeout and delivery orders.

“We were just kicking butt, I mean from January we had killer months on both sides,” Claudia said. “And then we screeched to a halt.”

After being closed for about two weeks, the restaurant opened for takeout orders. At the end of May, both the Mod and the Other Side — two different spaces connected by their kitchen and the same menu — reopened for indoor and outdoor seating at half capactiy. The restaurant, known for its deli selection, wood-fired pizza and large selection of craft beer, was hit especially hard financially during April and May.

The community has been very supportive, Dylan and Claudia said, but with the already thin profit margins typical of a restaurant, the health restrictions and public caution in going out certaintly haven’t helped with profitability.

“We’ll see how things go with more regulations to follow,” Dylan said, referencing Gov. Cooper’s announcment last Tuesday that alcohol sales would be prohibited in bars and restaurants after 11 p.m., in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

For The Other Side, which opened in October last year as a bar but has recently added food to their menu, this likely means making less money — Dylan said late night food and drink sales on Fridays and Saturdays have helped make up for the restaurant’s slower days of the week.

“It’s been a pretty tough business to be in,” he said. “We’ll see what happens the next couple of months…these last few definitely haven’t been what I thought.”

‘Living his dream’

The Mod was started in 2016, in what Claudia describes as “a pretty quick turnaround.” Her husband, Rick, who is also a co-owner of the restaurant, had always wanted to open up a restaurant or bar. So when Dylan mentioned the idea — a little over a year after Claudia retired as a nurse at UNC Hospitals — it seemed like a good opportunity for the family. Even if she did think her son was a little out of his mind at first.

“Yeah, I’m living his dream,” Claudia said. “It’s a lot more I think than we ever ever realized —.but I like people. And that’s really truly one of the best things about this is you do get to meet a lot of different people, find some really good friends and it’s just a supportive community.”

Though finances over the last few months have been stressful, Claudia said she’s been thankful for the chance to slow down — a slight point of contention between her and her son, who is eager to find creative ways be open and make money.

Always closed on Mondays for cleaning and paperwork days, the team decided to close on Sundays too. There just wasn’t enough business after lunch hours for staying open to be worth it.

Claudia said some normally steady costs went down when they were doing takeout, like the water and electricity bill. And, she was able to spend more time with her grandchildren with the extra time too, which didn’t hurt.

“The silver lining for me is I think people are really going to be able to have more flexibility — companies are going to get to see that people don’t have to come in, they can work from home sometimes,” she said. “I’m sure hoping there are a lot of good things, too, about staying at home.”

‘People really cared’

For Tequilla Smith, who lives in Pittsboro and has worked at the Mod for nearly five years, working during a pandemic has been a big adjustment.

To start with, it’s not as busy as usual, and like Dylan and Claudia, she misses the regulars — many older people — who have stopped going out to eat in an effort to limit their exposure to the virus. She wears a mask for the duration of her shift and has to remind herself she can’t hug anyone right now. (Sometimes she gives elbow bumps or blows air kisses to make up for it). Other parts of the job, like sanitation rules, haven’t changed much, as most of the practices were already a regular part of her duties.

“It’s risky — it’s very risky because we deal with a lot of the public and the scary thing is we don’t know who actually has it because not everyone shows symptoms,” she said. “It’s a good thing I’m able to work, but it’s also a scary thing that I have to work because you just never know.”

Tequilla tries to take as many precautions as possible to prevent getting sick — she has Multiple Sclerosis and a daughter at home to worry about in regards to the virus.

“I don’t want to go home and take it to her I don’t want to do it and then I get hospitalized, because that’s that what that’s what would happen to me if I had it,” she said.

Dylan said owning a restaurant right now is all about finding the balance in making smart health and business decisions. He hopes in upcoming months they’ll be able to safely bring back live music to the Other Side, and maybe get back to hosting (socially-distanced) events.

Even as there are more tough decisions likely to be made down the road, he said the support from locals has meant so much to him and the team — affectionately dubbed “The Mod Squad.” Just the other night, he said, one woman gave him $50 after ordering a drink and mentioned she knew the restaurant was likely struggling.

When revenue was dwindling in May and Claudia realized takeout would not keep the restaurant afloat, prior to their reopening, it was the generosity of the community that kept her going.

“I just can’t say enough good things about that people really cared and wanted to make sure we were okay,” she said.

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com.


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