“Hibernation” is probably not a term that the restaurant industry thought it would adopt into its vernacular, but these are unusual times.
As winter approaches and the prospect of struggling through months of patio-less dining looms ahead, restaurant owners have been making the hard decision to either close their business or remain open and hope that takeout and indoor dining gets them through the colder months.
But a third option has also emerged: hibernating, which entails temporarily closing a restaurant with the hope of reopening when the weather is warmer or the world is safer.
“Our business is probably 70 percent tourism, financial district [workers and residents], and State House [employees],” he said. “None of that exists right now. Our sales were maybe a third of what our sales were pre-COVID-19. When we had [PPP money] to pay payroll, we were doing alright, but as soon as that ran out, we just didn’t have a choice. We were just going to fail.”
Kilgore said they have been able to negotiate with their landlord, and that he hopes to reopen The Emory when the warm weather returns — and with the help of federal aid, which he believes will come “later rather than sooner.”
Michael Serpa also recently sent Grand Tour, his Back Bay bistro, into hibernation, telling Boston.com that the intimate space “was just not comfortable for most people,” and that keeping it open didn’t make sense financially.
“Now you have a lot of staff or even just a couple staff [if you open], you don’t know how busy you’re going to be, you have product coming in, you have some sort of waste, you have to pay for linens and trash,” he said, painting a picture of what Grand Tour might face if he kept it open. “So the risk is that you can open and lose more money than just being closed. At that point, it just doesn’t make too much sense to be open.”
Serpa plans to reopen the space in the spring.
Other restaurants are in even deeper limbo. Irish pubs The Asgard and The Kinsale shuttered in early October, with signs on their front doors indicating a permanent closure. But as of Tuesday, owner Peter Sarmanian said that they haven’t made a final decision yet, and told Boston.com that, post-pandemic, “if the office buildings come back, there’s a chance we could reopen. … I’m not going to say at this point that we’re permanently closed.”
Whether they’re open, closed, or fall somewhere in between, there’s no question that the restaurant industry is facing a difficult winter ahead. And what happens during the colder months will likely have a ripple effect on Boston’s restaurant scene for years to come.
“The fabric of our community is really built around restaurants and bars, and, more importantly, small, family-owned types of places that give the city the personality that’s taken decades to build,” Kilgore said. “I really hope in this politically uncertain time, that cooler heads can prevail and that there is a good package that comes together, for not just restaurants but for anybody in the hospitality industry, and for people who are suffering and losing housing right now. These are hard times. I just hope that the fabric of the restaurant community can remain solid so that our cities can keep their personality and their backbone and we don’t end up with a bunch of corporate places.”
Here is an ongoing list of restaurants that have announced they are hibernating for the winter and planning to return in the spring:
“Hibernation 2020!” exclaims a notice on Commonwealth’s website. The Cambridge restaurant closed its doors on September 20, promising to return in warmer weather. “We are all plugging away over at CW, waiting for 2021 to bring all of you back into our lives! However, COVID-19 has really changed the way that we as a restaurant and a community [have] had to adapt in order to continue serving our guests. We are seeing less and less people willing to venture out and eat at restaurants these days, making it hard to do what we love to do! With that being said, [owner] Nookie has decided that it is best to weather this storm by acting like a bear and hibernating for the winter. We will be back in 2021 and we cannot wait!”
Serpa’s charming French bistro opened in January and tried to weather the pandemic with takeout and patio seating, but the restaurateur ultimately made the decision to close Grand Tour’s doors on September 30. “Grand Tour will be going into hibernation for the time being due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” read an Instagram post. “We will return in the spring of 2021. The space will be available for small private events.” In the meantime, you can visit Serpa’s new seafood spot, Atlántico, which opened on October 15.
“The Emory is closed until further notice,” Kilgore posted to the restaurant’s social media pages on October 8, going on to thank guests and friends before ending on a hopeful note. “However, this is not the end. We are hoping to reopen in the spring of 2021 — hopefully by then, the world will be in a better state and we can bring The Emory back!”
This Commonwealth Avenue watering hold announced its hibernation on October 3. “To all our beloved guests, The Kenmore will be going into a winter hibernation,” read an Instagram post. “We appreciate your business and you’ll be the first to know when we’re firing up the kitchens!” It also encouraged guests to visit The Kenmore’s newly reopened sister restaurant, The Corner Tavern, in the Back Bay.
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