Table for Two: Restaurants in a pandemic

6 mins read
Margaritas-to-go is just one of the ways Uno Mas has pivoted to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

KINGFIELD – With the approaching one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants are settling into what has become the new normal for their industry. Many restaurant owners have had to re-evaluate their businesses several times over the past few months and remaining open has meant constant flexibility and creativity to supplement profits.

“It became a game of how to not lose money, instead of a game of how to make money,” said Ryan Nezol, who owns Uno Mas. Uno Mas was one of the few restaurants that remained open in the early months of the pandemic. This was mostly due to the early preparations that Nezol took with his employees and his business. Nezol cut the staff to a minimum and offered only take-out services, an option that many restaurants would utilize in the coming months.

“A lot of our customers saw the precautions we took early. They could tell we were taking it seriously and they’ve been supportive ever since. They’d leave extra tips because they knew how much we were struggling. It had some people ordering from here twice a week. It felt good to know the community had my back,” said Nezol.

Despite the support from community members who looked to help restaurants any way they could, Uno Mas has suffered many of the same negative impacts of other restaurants this year.

Uno Mas is also working on expanding their bar area in order to seat more people while still social distancing.

“Between 25-35 percent of my business is people passing through,” said Nezol. With the tourist season all-but nonexistent in the past year and the fears of customers in the early pandemic, Uno Mas struggled to keep its doors open.

“There were months on end when I couldn’t afford to spend an extra cent,” said Nezol.

Revenue fell more than 40 percent from that of 2019, and it wasn’t clear if Uno Mas would recover. In the recent months, with the opening of dine-in services again, profits have increased, but according to Nezol, they’re nowhere near where they normally are in February when business usually picks up after the holiday decline. Nezol received a round of Covid relief funds part of which he’s utilized to expand the bar inside the restaurant to seat more customers while still socially distancing. He hopes that this will help upcoming business, but the stereotype surrounding restaurants might be the bigger obstacle to overcome in maintaining success as the pandemic continues.

“The limited capacity dining in a restaurant is actually safer than having dinner at a friend’s house. That’s where the spread happens, but restaurants were demonized early on by the news,” said Nezol.

Polly MacMichael, co-owner of Rolling Fatties in Kingfield, hasn’t necessarily felt the weight of the stereotype, but this may be due to her communal approach to remaining open. To minimize risk and to consolidate resources, the restaurant has cut their hours to weekends only, offering takeout services as well as a fully stocked grocery store.

Rolling Fatties now offers their homemade salsa, guacamole, tortillas and even pre-packaged chicken wings through their online market.

“We source 95 percent of our products locally already, so we worked with our distributors and local sources to sell raw ingredients and Maine products. People can order it online and we stock it right here, so it’s easy for them to pick it up,” said MacMichael.

The products range from locally sourced meats to produce and grains. Distributors such as Maine Grains and Cold Spring Ranch contribute to Rolling Fattie’s market. When customers order online, their market items are placed on the pick-up porch outside the restaurant with the rest of their food order.

“We also offer prepared foods, like our guacamole, so that people can buy that in bulk too. The idea is that you can do your grocery shopping and buy everything you need to make your own “fattie” at home. People seem to really appreciate the ease of it, and so we haven’t seen too much of a decline in business,” said MacMichael.

Whether Rolling Fatties continues their grocery offerings or not will depend, but for now, there is too much fluctuation to tell MacMichael said.

“We just want to do what best for our employees and our customers.”

A typical Rolling Fatties market pickup- local produce, beverages and fixings for make-at-home fatties.
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