By: Kimberly Houghton, Union Leader Correspondent
Fearful that decades of work will be destroyed, New Hampshire restaurant owners are publicly beseeching the governor to allow indoor dining to resume.
“This is almost an insurmountable devastation financially,” Amy LaBelle of LaBelle Winery in Amherst said on Friday.
Indoor dining came to a halt about 10 weeks ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although takeout, curbside pickup and outdoor dining are still permitted, restaurant owners maintain that patchwork is not a sustainable business model.
“This is dire. We need to open. I don’t want government help, I just want to open,” LaBelle said.
Although LaBelle supported Gov. Chris Sununu in the last election, she questions his leadership now. She said he should be letting businesses know what the next steps and ultimate goal are so that they can plan and prepare.
LaBelle said she doesn’t understand whether the current objective is eradicate the disease, find a vaccine or flatten the curve.
“Why on earth are we not open … he is messing with my livelihood,” she said, expressing fears that if the winery does not reopen, she could lose her business and in a worst-case scenario, possibly lose her home.
LaBelle, who said she has given refunds to couples who booked weddings at their event center, has no idea when weddings will be able to resume.
She said restaurants can — and should — reopen with safeguards in place.
“We are fighting for our lives,” she said.
Not breaking even
Michael Buckley, of Michael Buckley’s Dining Group, said Friday that under the current restrictions, restaurants are not breaking even.
Bills are not going away, vendors must still be paid, and weather can prohibit the already limited services of outdoor dining, according to Buckley, whose operations include Surf Restaurant, Buckley’s Great Steaks and MT’s Local Kitchen and Wine Bar.
“Many businesses have exhausted their resources. Having the ability to open our patios was a good first step and is appreciated, but unfortunately, with only patio tables and curbside, we continue to lose money,” Buckley wrote in an open letter to Sununu.
With 33 other governors starting to reopen restaurants to indoor dining, Buckley said now is the time for New Hampshire to start to ease restrictions so that restaurants will be around for the final phase.
“Not every business will make it out of this difficult time. I am aware of at least six of my fellow restaurateurs that have already decided to close. I believe that to be just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
Noting the permanent closures of Triolos Bakery in Bedford and Canoe restaurant in Bedford, LaBelle said the current situation’s impact on cash flow is indescribable.
‘Starving’ for normal
Andrea and Jack Carnevale, owners of the Bedford Village Inn and Restaurant, wrote in a letter to the editor that if indoor dining is not permitted soon, the establishment will be forced to scale back its restaurant staff, or worse.
“It has taken us 30 years to build the Bedford Village Inn and Restaurant and the governor’s policy of keeping us closed is destroying it. We cannot go on much longer being closed or we may have to shut our doors forever,” the Carnevales wrote. “We implore the governor to change his restrictive policies and help our industry and our people by opening hotels and allowing indoor dining and functions.”
They said hotels and restaurants are well-equipped to control customer behavior and ensure all safety guidelines are met. People are “starving to get back to normal” and have shown that they can do it safely, they said.
Sununu said he hopes to have an announcement in the next few weeks about some form of indoor dining, but it’s too early to know what that will look like.
By late June most restaurant owners will have exhausted the federal Payroll Protection Program money that helped them keep staff on the payroll even when their eateries weren’t open, the governor said.
“My hope is even if we are not making that move for 50% (capacity indoors), we could at least give them a timeline so those owners have some certainty,” Sununu said.
By: Kevin Landrigan, New Hampshire Union Leader
CONCORD – Although Gov. Chris Sununu has shown little fondness for the term, the first phase of New Hampshire’s reopening appears to be nearing an end.
For the first time last Friday, the two-term Newfields Republican mused publicly about a time when restaurants could offer some indoor dining, when people could legally gather outside in groups larger than 10 and when employees could no longer refuse to return to work because they did not feel “comfortable” in the workplace.
“I remember when we limited groups of 10 and I thought, ‘How the heck are we going to do that?’ Well we did it, and it would be great to get out of it, as it is one of the most restrictive things we have done as a state,” Sununu said.
“I would love to see it move forward and open things up. There are about 20 different scenarios on the table.”
The change in unemployment ground rules will happen June 15, the date on which Sununu has confirmed he will let the current stay-at-home order expire.
When the order expires, so too will expanded eligibility for state-paid unemployment benefits.
Sununu admitted many business owners could still have a hard time attracting back workers who are collecting $600 a week extra in federally paid unemployment through June 30. But it will happen eventually, he said.
“I think it’s a nice transition time for that,” Sununu said.
Sununu’s look ahead came after a week of important announcements.
Lodging changesBeginning next Friday, hotel rooms may be rented to any New Hampshire resident or out-of-stater who has first quarantined in the state somewhere else for at least two weeks.
Greg Moore, state director of the fiscally conservative Americans for Prosperity, predicted that some owners offering, small-unit, short-term rentals might not carefully check driver’s licenses.
“I suspect a small operator or two will try to stay under the radar and rent to their regular customers, hoping that doesn’t lead to a police chief knocking at their door,” Moore said.
Gathering flocksSununu also announced people will be able to gather more freely in houses of worship, though many religious leaders say they will wait awhile before fully reopening their buildings.
“There has been a lot of passion around opening houses of worship and that’s rightfully so,” Sununu said.
“It is an integral part of so many families’ lives and it keeps so many families together and the glue that binds them.”
Andrew J. Manuse, volunteer head of ReopenNH, last month organized a large protest in support of reopening houses of worship.
“Even Pharaoh let all of the Israelites go and not just 40%,” Manuse said in a statement. “It’s unconscionable that this governor thinks he has the authority to tell religious organizations how they can gather. It’s clearly unconstitutional and I’d like to see priests, pastors, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders completely ignore His Excellency all across the state.”
Moore said Sununu has well-defended his decisions, which is why his popularity has grown, though not among a minority of some hard-core conservatives who think New Hampshire should be through a second or third phase by now.
Massachusetts’ Phase 2 could begin as early as June 8.
“The natives are restless,” said Moore who keeps a close eye on this political base with the Right-of-Center meetings often held at AFP headquarters in Manchester.
Sununu bristled last Friday when asked why New Hampshire hasn’t fully reopened its economy, as western states with fewer COVID-19 cases like Colorado have done.
“A lot of states are not 30 miles away from Boston. It is a very different situation. If you want to compare New Hampshire to a place like North Dakota that’s very unfair, you can’t consider that anything like an apples-to-apples comparison,” Sununu said.
Northeast still ‘ground zero’Sununu said most states didn’t take the steps New Hampshire did, including creating an advisory board of stakeholders that devised reopening rules for their own industries.
“The Northeast in the U.S. is ground zero for COVID in the world. Those are the facts,” Sununu said.
The governor’s actions on hotels and short-term rentals received qualified support from the two industry members on his Economic Reopening Task Force.
The rules allow hotel owners to take reservations immediately for occupancy starting next Friday.
Those who own complexes with fewer than 20 units can be fully occupied. Larger hotels can only rent to 50% capacity.
“We heard from those running lodging properties there’s a great deal of frustration on their part,” said Mike Sommers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association.
Op-ed by: Michael Buckley, MT's Dining Group
An open letter to Gov. Sununu:
Dear Governor Sununu,
This is an open and honest appeal from me, Michael Buckley (the chef/owner of several independent restaurants in New Hampshire and lifelong resident), but more importantly, from the hospitality industry as a whole. Over the past three months, we have suffered devastating financial losses. Our industry has been fundamentally changed forever. Even as it stands now, we have a monumental fight ahead of us to get back to a place of normalcy and profitability.
This is a fight we are ready to face head-on. We are not asking for you to do it for us, or give us more grants or stimulus, we are just asking for the opportunity to do it ourselves. We are asking for you to allow us to reopen our dining rooms in some capacity.
I can only speak to the financial position of my own company which held a very solid financial footing before this crisis. Programs such as the Paycheck Protection Plan or EIDL loans were an important first step, but unfortunately, if you do not couple these programs with the ever-important ability to operate your business in a manageable capacity, they will run out long before most businesses can make it through.
Most of my company’s funds were spent trying to keep my staff employed and intact as we waited out the shutdown. I and many other business owners have exhausted our resources. Having the ability to open our patios was a good first step, and is appreciated, but unfortunately, with only patio tables and curbside, we continue to lose money. I am not trying to overdramatize our position, but these are merely the facts we all face. I am imploring you to make a decision similar to that of the other 33 governors who have started to reopen their restaurants for indoor dining. We must start now with the phase two restrictions so we will still be around for the final phase of reopening.
Per NHPR, which has been tracking daily stats on COVID-19 cases put out by the state, we have seen an average decline in newly identified cases and average total cases over the last 14 days. We believe this should qualify us to have a certain level of comfort moving forward into the next stage of reopening.
This industry is grounded by independent entrepreneurs, most whom have spent their entire lives building a business they can be proud of to support their families. The hospitality industry is a cornerstone of the New Hampshire economy, providing tens of thousands of jobs, bolstering the tourist trade, and enriching the lives of its citizens. The rooms and meals tax generated by the restaurant and lodging industry each year is one of the main sources of revenue that keep our state running. This is especially important as we see a decrease in state income this year due to lighter traffic at tolls and liquor stores. With these losses, we would most likely have to institute a sales tax, income tax, or both. That is something that would change the Live Free or Die state for eternity.
Not every business will make it out of this difficult time. I am aware of at least six of my fellow restaurateurs that have already decided to close. I believe that to be just the tip of the iceberg.
We will continue to work with you at the state level to ensure our reopening is safe and seamless, protecting our guests and our employees from any future spread of COVID-19, but at the end of the day, that must coincide with our dining rooms opening again. These next few weeks are a vital time in the restart of our industry. We are not under the notion that we will be back to profitability any time soon, but it is imperative that we restart the engine while the nucleus of our industry is still intact. We are down but we are not out, we don’t need to be saved but we need to be supported, and we need to be allowed to start our long fight back to a place of financial stability. We are not alone in this struggle. We share the same bleak outlook of many industries across our state and this country.
Ultimately it will be up to leaders such as you, industry leaders, and the business owners to make the tough but necessary choices that will lead us to eventual success.
We have never, and would never, downplay the severity of any preventable loss of life. My heart goes out to all who have lost or suffered. Which is why, when we were asked to shutter our businesses, we did. When we were asked to stay home in an attempt to flatten the curve, we did. And it worked. The time to re-open is now, while we still have businesses to return to, while our employees still have jobs to return to, while we still have a chance. It is unrealistic and counterproductive to expect or believe that the government will be able to continue to take care of everyone financially. The cash needed to fund such ideals comes from one place, the strength of our economy.
We will continue to respect your decisions and look forward to working side by side with you for years to come. This public health crisis has been the most trying time our state has seen in many years, but I am sure the New Hampshire way of rolling up our sleeves and getting back to work will make things right again.
Michael T Buckley
Michael Timothy’s Dining Group
Michael Buckley is the chef-owner of five award-winning restaurants – including Surf in Portsmouth – and a leader in New Hampshire’s hospitality industry. The views expressed are those of the writer.
By: Andrea and Jack Carnevale, Op-Ed in the Union Leader
WE HAVE written the Governor’s Economic Re-Opening Task Force many times, but Gov. Chris Sununu is deaf to the lodging and restaurant industry pleas to open. The Task Force recommended the opening of hotels on 5/22, but he chose not to listen to them either.
When Gov. Sununu closed the state on March 17, we of course closed the Bedford Village Inn, causing great emotional pain. But our industry supported the stay-at-home order because we wanted to help keep the virus under control in New Hampshire. Initially, the closure was for 2 weeks, but now it has been 10 weeks with no end in sight.
Our restaurant is only open for takeaway and outdoor dining. This isn’t being open because we cannot sustain our business on such little revenue. We are not allowed indoor dining, functions of at least 125, and our hotel continues to be completely closed; and worse still is that there is no timeline on when these limitations will end.
Only the Paycheck Protection Program is keeping us open and in a few weeks that will end and we will be laying off all hotel and function employees once again. We are now paying a lot of staff to stay at home. If inside dining is not allowed soon, we will also be scaling down restaurant staff.
Hotels and restaurants are very well equipped and managed to control customer behavior and ensure that all safety guidelines are met. Guests who have come to our patio or the outdoor dining at the Grand have been so happy to be enjoying a meal at a restaurant with other people. People are starving to get back to normal and they have shown they can do it safely because we enforce Task Force and CDC safety guidelines.
I don’t understand why hotels cannot open. After all, guests are in their own rooms and when they dine they are social distancing, they would not be allowed to congregate in lobbies, etc. All the restrictions would be easy for us to manage.
The goal of the stay-at-home order is to prevent hospital overcrowding, which has been accomplished. It was never a policy goal to eliminate all cases of COVID-19, which is impossible and illogical when 99% of infected people have no significant symptoms. We now know who we need to protect, the most vulnerable, and we need to do that while allowing those at less risk to get back to normal. Rational thinking must prevail to reassure the public and get our economy going again. We should not depend on hypothetical projections with this virus, they have all been proven wrong. There is too much at stake to risk everyone’s well-being by not getting our state open.
It has taken us 30 years to build the Bedford Village Inn & Restaurant and the governor’s policy of keeping us closed is destroying it. We cannot go on much longer being closed or we may have to shut our doors forever. We implore the governor to change his restrictive policies and help our industry and our people by opening hotels and allowing indoor dining and functions. The state will greatly benefit while still being able to protect the vulnerable.
Andrea and Jack Carnevale own The Bedford Village Inn & Restaurant and live in Bedford.
By: Alex LaCasse, Seacoastonline.com
EXETER – Sit-down dining service is beginning to reopen in town, and restaurant owners, with an assist from municipal officials, are getting creative to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
So far, at least nine restaurants have been approved to resume sit-down dining service outside, with several others still finalizing their plans. The state’s phase one regulations for allowing businesses to reopen call for moving dining spaces outdoors, which went into effect May 18.
Restaurants who have reopened for outdoor dining submitted plans to a committee of town staff, including the fire chief, police chief, health officer and director of economic development to approve before Town Manager Russ Dean signed off for them to officially open.
“I would call the effort seamless,” said Darren Winham, the town’s director of economic development. “The Select Board was unanimously supportive of the concept as long as restaurants add the town as additionally insured and adhere to the governor’s provisions.”
Restaurants like the Laney & Lu with outdoor patio space surrounding its takeout window and Sawbelly Brewing, whose landlord approved of them moving operations into the parking lot, only needed to provide a socially distant-compliant plan to town officials. As long as restaurant owners can rope off a section of the outdoor dining space, those possessing an existing liquor license will be allowed to serve alcoholic beverages.
Laney & Lu owner Jennifer Desrosiers said business has been “slow” in the two weeks since she’s been able to offer outside tables. She said because of her small dining room, she is unsure if it will be economically feasible to reopen that portion of her restaurant even when restrictions are loosened to reincorporate indoor dining.
“We’re not seeing as many people as we expected, but we’re beginning to see a lot of our regulars returning, which is really nice to see,” Desrosiers said. “We have 30 seats outdoors for the comfort of our customers and we feel safe with this model for now. We try to keep the patio open until Thanksgiving time, so we’re hoping for good weather through the fall to help keep us busy.”
According to Gov. Chris Sununu’s Economic Reopening Task Force, the second phase of the state’s reopening plan for restaurants entails reopening indoor dining rooms at a reduced capacity, with specific numbers dependent on the square footage of the dining room to account for social distancing. There is no date yet for when the state would allow restaurants to shift to the second phase.
Restaurants in downtown storefronts with little or no outdoor space of their own have provided town officials with plans to use public spaces, in many cases moving onto Water Street sidewalks. To be approved for expanding dining onto town property, they must provide the town with copies of their insurance policies with liability coverage for at least $1 million, per incident.
By: Denise J. Wheeler, Seacoastonline
The ’50s-style Roundabout diner in Portsmouth is offering carhop service in its parking lot. Guests at Latitudes, the waterfront restaurant at the Wentworth by the Sea Hotel and Spa in New Castle, are now able to dine on the property’s poolside decks with views of the ocean.
The fun and extravagance of these reopenings belie stark realities faced by independent restaurant owners on the Seacoast. COVID-19 has already forced some to shutter their businesses. Others cannot reopen yet because state and local guidelines are not economically feasible. Still more are balancing precariously on thin profit margins as they try to stay afloat offering outdoor dining and-or takeout.
Brendan Vesey has experienced the emotional and economic toll of COVID-19 fallout firsthand. He closed his restaurant, the Joinery in Newmarket, when the coronavirus shutdown began, and is now focusing his energy on Botanica Restaurant and Gin Bar in Portsmouth’s West End.
“In our society, we tend to associate economic failure with personal failure. In the case of global crisis, this simply is not true. I have to constantly remind myself of this, which is not easy,” he said. “All the chefs I know define their self worth through their work. When work is abruptly taken away, what is left? A human being that has value whether employed or not. It took me weeks after the (Joinery) closure to get this through my own head and, from speaking with industry friends, I know I am not alone.”
Vesey is offering three-course take-out meals for $30 at Botanica and is looking at the economic feasibility and safety of offering outdoor dining on the patio.
“The restaurant specific guidance in ‘Stay at Home 2.0’ gave us all the hope of turning an empty parking lot into a patio open to customers on May 18, but Portsmouth is not the North Country,” he noted. “Our density and proximity to Boston give us unique challenges requiring increased caution.”
The fate of independent restaurants is intrinsically tied to state and local economies. In addition to their staffs, these establishments employ a robust supply chain of farmers, fishermen, beverage distributors, linen service providers and more. Beyond that, they generate meals and rooms taxes for the state and are a big draw for tourists.
“What is clearly going to be lost first are the neighborhood mom-and-pop shop establishments, not the Burger Kings and Applebee’s,” said Evan Mallett, owner of Black Trumpet. “The personal touch is the soul of Portsmouth’s dining scene. We have these connections between our employees, food service providers and our clients that are more noticeable and vital here than in any other community I know.”
Mallett predicts it will be a long time before those connections can take root again.
“In the meantime, we have to redefine what a restaurant is,” he said. “Some places are turning into grocery stores or switching to a takeout or outdoor dining model. Most of these ‘pivots’ are clumsy and sometimes comical, but they are necessary.”
“There’s a lot of energy around outdoor dining right now. But we have to remember we are at 43 degrees north and we have three-and-a-half months if we are lucky while the weather is good. To pin our hopes on that as a long-term solution is folly. Not that we shouldn’t look at it, but we also have to address landlord forgiveness and landlord funding because if landlords can’t bend, we’ll soon see a second wave of local restaurant closures.”
Mallett called for a restaurant-specific task force (https://bit.ly/2WLWy0x) to acknowledge and protect restaurants’ position as fundamental to the fabric of Portsmouth’s thriving and diverse downtown. This task force would address the realities of the industry’s unique operating challenges locally and give restaurateurs a better chance of reopening, rebuilding and remaining sustainable.
The City Council voted May 18 to form a restaurant task force by June 1. City Councilor Cliff Lazenby also made a motion that was adopted at that same meeting to waive permit fees, including building fees, sidewalk usage or sidewalk obstruction fees for restaurants.
By: Karen Dandurant, SeacoastOnline.com
Seacoast residents out and about Saturday said they are thrilled to be outside, while hoping everyone was socially well behaved and remembered the pandemic.
Ellen and Kevin Belleville, and their dog Lulu, came from Massachusetts to have lunch at The District in Portsmouth. Ellen said they can still only do takeout in Massachusetts.
“We are being really careful,” Ellen said. “We have been here before and really wanted to come sit outside and have lunch. The District is dog friendly and I wish more places were.”
Jack Durkin, a server at The District, said they are all happy to be working again. He said they have been busy since they opened.
“I think the outdoor dining is a nice reintroduction to everyday life,” Durkin said. “It’s been a great day and people are all super happy.”
It wasn’t beach weather for Memorial Day weekend, and the beaches do not open until June 1, so people in Market Square were enjoying a bit of shopping.
At Bull Moose Records, manager Mackenzie Keefe said she has been at the store five days a week, even during the quarantine.
“We started off doing mail service, sending out about 100 packages a week,” Keefe said. “Then we went to curbside pickup, and last Monday we opened for customers.”
Bull Moose customers are required to wear a mask and no more than eight people will be allowed in the store at one time. Yellow taped squares on the sidewalk mark off the correct physical distancing.
“People have been really good about wearing a mask,” Keefe said. “A few grumbled but then they did it anyway. We want people to feel comfortable, but we want it to be safe.”
Patrick Shaughnessy and Mark Deprizio, and their dog Harper, enjoyed sandwiches on a bench in Market Square.
“I am from Manhattan, but I have not been there in a long time,” Deprizio said, noting COVID-19 has kept him here. Shaughnessy is from Salem, Mass. The two went to high school together and became long-time friends.
“We went hiking today with Harper,” Deprizio said. “Then we came here for lunch. What I have been missing the most are restaurants and the beach.”
Sarah Kenny and Akira Sano of Dover said it was a good weekend to get out and have lunch. They were at the Garrison City Beerworks, eating at the restaurant’s outdoor seating.
“We have both been working remotely,” Sano said. “Our daily life hasn’t changed that much since we are still working. But, we were definitely starting to feel a little crazy.”
By: Bob Sanders, NH Business Review
New Hampshire may join Vermont and Maine in effectively banning out-of-state lodging guests, Seacoast town beaches may open up with half-parking, daycare workers may not have to wear masks all the time and the current guidance for cosmetologists could expand to a wide range of services, including facials, tanning, massage and possibly tattoos.
All this might be decided Friday, as the state’s effort to open as quickly as possible under the constraints of public health.
The state’s Economic Reopening Task Force is planning to make some key votes on Friday, and the governor plans on making an announcement concerning reopening at his 3 p.m. press conference, DJ Bettencourt, the governor’s point person on the task force said at the task force’s Thursday meeting.
The task force also delved into whether to allow movie theaters, bowling alleys, driver’s education classes and larger foot races (like marathons). Next week it plans to take up charitable gaming.
The task force voted on Thursday to approve a regional beach plan, after some towns raised objections to the previously passed guidance to open up Hampton Beach. The recommendation, however, came without a date, and as of Thursday, the governor had not set one.
The new plan for the Seacoast bans public parking along Routes 1A and 1B, and limits parking on all parking lots to 50%. All beaches would be open to only transitory activity, which includes walking, swimming and boating, but not sitting on the beach or congregating in groups of more than 10.
The task force had asked for lodging and hotels to be open on Friday – at 50% occupancy for large hotels with indoor room access – but Governor Sununu asked representatives of the industry to look at the guidelines of Vermont and Maine, both of are allowing their hotels to open this weekend.
On Thursday, Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association, said that the guidelines were similar to New Hampshire’s, except that both neighboring states imposed a two-week quarantine on out-of-state guests. So he said he would propose to amend New Hampshire’s guidelines to include a similar restriction. Bettencourt scheduled a tentative vote on that for Friday.
By: Anthony Brooks, WBUR
On a recent afternoon at the Waterhouse Restaurant in Peterborough, New Hampshire, general manager Jeff Abbott was filling in as a cook, preparing a plate of sesame-seared ahi tuna.
"We've got some bok choy slaw, pineapple red pepper glaze, and then we've got some pickled onions," Abbot said, as he passed the dish to a server.
While many Massachusetts restaurants have been offering take-out service during the pandemic, they won't be able to serve dine-in customers for another two to three weeks, at least. But in neighboring New Hampshire — where infection rates are much lower than hard-hit Massachusetts -- restaurants, like the Waterhouse, began offering outside seating this week.
"We've been doing a very nice take-out service," said Cy Gregg, co-owner of The Waterhouse, which has a lovely outside patio overlooking the rushing waters of the Nubanusit river. "But it can't replace — from a financial standpoint and from an employee standpoint — actually having customers on site, which is why we've been chomping at the bit."
To survive the past two months, Gregg had to lay off his hourly employees, but he managed to keep some of his full-time staff. Before the pandemic, he seated more than 100 people inside and out. Now, under social distancing requirements, he can only serve about 30 customers on the patio.
"Obviously, I could put four or five more tables out here easily and that would make a big difference from a financial standpoint," he said. "But, hey, that time will come, and once we can start using the inside, that will help, too."
That won't happen for a while. Until then, according to guidance from Gov. Chris Sununu's reopening task force, no more than six customers can be seated at a table, and servers must wear masks and gloves. But it's a start, and much welcomed by customers like Sherri Cheaney, a realtor in Peterborough, who was enjoying lunch with a friend for the first time in weeks.
A masked server delivers lunch to a table at the Nuevo Vallarta Mexican Restaurant in Manchester, N.H. on May 18. Charles Krupa/AP)"It's been horrible," she said, and then laughed. "I've been cooking a lot. And you know, with spring springing, we're just ready to get back to life. I'm just so happy that [The Waterhouse is] open, and I really want to see them make it, so I'm thrilled to be here."
They're also cooking lunch for outside diners at the Pearl Oyster Bar in Peterborough, where owner Harris Welden has struggled to keep the Asian-fusion eatery and a nearby Italian-themed restaurant going. He laid off more than half of his 50 employees, shifted to take-out and delivery only, and watched his cash reserves disappear. He received loans from The CARES Act, the federal coronavirus relief bill, which helped. Now, he has a few tables set up outside on the edge of a parking lot.
"We're surviving," Welden said. "It's not ideal. We're not profitable, by any means. The game has always been lose money slower — as opposed to making money."
Even so, Welden was optimistic and said serving customers again — even if it's just a few tables in a parking lot — makes it feel like a normal restaurant again.
"You know, it's a good first step, and hopefully it's a sign of more to come," he said.
But many restaurants still face huge challenges. Not far from Peterborough, three have shut down for good. Across the state as many as 40 have gone out of business, according to Mike Somers, CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association. Allowing outside dining helps, but Somers said only about 20-30% of restaurants in the state have space for that.
"So that leaves 70-80% of folks who can't do anything, and so they're still essentially closed at this point, which is not sustainable," he said.
MANCHESTER, N.H. — While some New Hampshire restaurants reopened earlier this week with outdoor seating only, others might never open again.
Some smaller restaurants have been forced to close their doors for good, while others still in business struggle to make any money.
Industry groups and restaurant owners said the break-even point for most is about 75% of capacity, and with outdoor seating only, most don't come close to that.
“There is no return on investment for shifting these operations outside, never mind the fact for over two months we've essentially been revenue-less,” Joe Faro, Tuscan Brands founder, said.
"We're certainly hearing about numbers of restaurants. We saw The Canoe was announced yesterday. Young’s Restaurant in Durham has gone out. There's been a handful in Portsmouth. We're hearing of some in the Monadnock Region. It's been challenging and certainly will continue to get worse,” Mike Somers, president of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association, said.
Association officials said the governor's recently announced $400 million Main Street Relief Fund to help state businesses won't be enough and the industry needs to get back to indoor dining as soon as possible.