By: Jonathan Phelps, New Hampshire Union Leader
Outside the closed Joey’s Diner on Route 101A in Amherst, Peter Duffy took a break from one of his evening bike rides to make a video to post on social media.
“I want to let you know that we miss you and we hope you come back real soon,” the Merrimack resident said from outside the 1950s-style diner.
He’s not the only New Hampshire resident missing his favorite restaurant during the pandemic.
Joey’s, which closed a few days after Gov. Chris Sununu’s March 17 ban on eat-in dining to prevent the spread of coronavirus, hopes to reopen Monday, according to Jamie Arsenault, one of the managers with the restaurant group that also owns Black Forest Cafe in Amherst and Luke’s Bar and Grill in Hudson.
“We only stayed open for about three days,” she said of Joey’s. “We weren’t doing anything for takeout, so we just decided to close down.”
Starting Monday, restaurants in Hillsborough, Rockingham, Strafford and Merrimack counties will be allowed to seat up to 50% of their capacity indoors. Restaurants in the six other counties can open up to full capacity as long as tables are six feet apart.
Some restaurants converted quickly to takeout and delivery, while others decided to remain closed until they could invite diners back. Some restaurants have permanently closed, and more are expected to do so before the pandemic is over.
For the past several weeks, restaurants have become creative with outdoor dining, which Sununu allowed as part of the state’s reopening plans. The openings require masks for servers, parties of no more than six people and other restrictions, such as disposable menus and nothing standing on the tables.
The openings include chains like Bertucci’s, which will be ready to resume indoor dining in Manchester and Salem.
Joey’s Diner, which typically fills to capacity on weekends, plans to take reservations. Customers will have to wait outdoors for a table.
“A typical Saturday we’re on a wait from pretty much 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.,” Arsenault said. That was before the 50% capacity restriction.
Duffy can’t wait to get back to one of his favorite spots to order his usual — scrambled eggs, crispy bacon, side of blueberry pancakes, home fries, orange juice and coffee.
“They are just a major part of the community and they make it a lot more vibrant,” he said. “And we love one of the waiters (Siegfried) — he is freakin’ awesome.”
The restaurant had 22 employees before temporarily closing. Arsenault hopes they will all be back in the next several weeks.
“We are going to open on Monday and see what happens, most of the staff is ready to come back right now,” she said. “We had a few people start back (last week) to clean and get the restaurant ready.”
Much-needed ‘lifeline’Restaurants are working hard to welcome guests back while meeting safety standards, said Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association.
“I know a lot of businesses were getting pretty desperate, so this is a lifeline,” he said. “A lot of folks are just very happy to get back to what they love.”
All restaurants will be required to make changes regardless of what county they’re located in, he said.
“I think for the most part most folks have been hanging on. We have heard of some closings and I suspect we are going to hear of some more before this is all over,” Somers said. “I think people have figured out a way to survive up until this point.”
Some of the hardest hit will be seasonal restaurants because they’ve already lost about a third of their year.
“We just don’t know what consumer demand is going to be,” Somers said.
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