COVID Sugar River Pizza

Amid coronavirus concerns, Sugar River Pizza practiced social distancing on a much slower than usual Sunday evening, March 15, by spacing out guests a table apart.

At Verona Monk’s Bar and Grill location, business isn’t what it used to be – even a week ago.

“It’s really declined,” a manager at Monk’s told the Press Monday night. “We had 30 for lunch, and 29 for dinner. That’s really bad.”

“I had to cut two cooks an hour ago and one server left without any money at all,” they added.

Monk’s is just one of many restaurants in Verona that have been hurt by recent county and state mandates that prohibit gatherings of larger than 50 people and require restaurants to either cut their capacity in half or have less than 50 patrons, whichever is lower.

Those mandates have been put in place in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, which first appeared in the state on Feb. 5, but has resulted in 46 active cases since March 9.

For Verona restaurants, mandates related to COVID-19 have resulted in significant cuts to servers and bartender staff, reduced hours or closing their doors for the indefinite future to protect the safety of staff.

Other local establishments like Sugar River Pizza, North and South, Tuvalu Coffeehouse, Sow’s Ear and Pasqual’s Cantina are closing sooner in the day, ranging from one hour earlier to more than three. Others, like Boulder Brewpub, have closed indefinitely to protect the safety of their staff and customers as COVID-19 spreads.

Some of those restaurants were encouraging more carryout orders.

Since the first cases of COVID-19 were seen in China in late 2019, the disease has spread to affect 182,000 people and kill 7,400. The number of confirmed cases in the U.S. surpassed 4,300 Monday, with at least 86 patients with the virus having died.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic, the first since the H1N1 influenza in 2009.

Sugar River Pizza owner Sarah Thomas wrote in an email to the Press that the business is using the opportunity to be creative, but is still doing between 30-40% of its normal business.

“Much of our team has been with us since we opened so we can’t just push them out the door and say, ‘good luck,’” she wrote.

Some of those new ideas Thomas said she’s working on is adding new delivery maps, new menu options and changes to the restaurant’s processes so customers can have curb-side pick-up, as well as meal kits so that families can cook together with their ingredients.

Thomas said the full impact of the situation is yet to be seen, but added that she’s planning for 6-8 weeks of slowing business.

“If it’s less than that it would be great, but if it’s longer than that I feel we’re building some sustainable plans,” she wrote. “We have 70 employees looking to Ross and I to have the answers and the weight of that has been tough.”

On Monday night at Monk’s, it was just the manager and one bartender servicing the entire restaurant, which wasn’t playing any live sports, as the NCAA Tournament was canceled and NBA, NHL and MLB games were put on hold.

“It’s just really bad,” they said. “Nobody’s going out – we’re a sports bar, and there’s no sports.”

Two blocks to the east, Pasqual’s Cantina was in a similar situation Monday night – the only two people servicing the entire restaurant were manager Cheyanna Rhode and her line cook. Dishwashers, the majority of servers and any employee under the age of 18 have been directed to stay at home.

Rhode told the Press she agrees with the reasoning behind the county and state’s directives taking steps to decrease the spread of COVID-19 by reducing restaurant capacity but said business has been much slower as a result.

“It’s been really touch and go,” she said. “Today was probably one of the slowest afternoons we’ve had.”

Still, Rhode said, it’s preferable to a complete shutdown, like those seen in the states of Ohio, Illinois and New York City.

Delivery through the third-party smartphone app EatStreet has seen a decline too, Rhode said, and any increases in carry-out orders have been minimal.

The Monk’s manager didn’t seem optimistic that business would pick up in the next few days.

“We’re going day by day, trying to stay open as long as we can,” they said. “I think we’re probably going to have to close soon, too.”

Email reporter Kimberly Wethal at kimberly.wethal@wcinet.com and follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wethal.