With sick staff and suspicious customers of omicron, CT restaurants open and close with “a lot of unknowns”

Omicron is the latest snowball to hit the beleaguered restaurant industry as staff fall ill or are exposed to COVID and customers lose confidence in indoor dining in the latest wave of cases.

While Connecticut reported a 21.5% positivity rate on Monday, schools closed and towns and villages rushed to distribute COVID home test kits to residents, where demand quickly outstripped supply. . Authorities have attributed the sharp increase in cases to the prevalence of both the delta variant, known to be highly transmissible, and the omicron variant, which is believed to be even more contagious.

The increase in cases over the past two weeks has prompted several state-owned restaurants to voluntarily shut down due to concerns for customer safety, as well as understaffing caused by employees testing positive – and a general difficulty to find tests, said Scott Dolch, executive director of Connecticut. Association of restaurateurs.

Zuppardi’s Apizza in West Haven has temporarily closed its dining hall due to an increase in COVID-19 cases. The pizzeria will offer curbside pickup only.

Lisa Nichols

“The challenges just weren’t relieved,” Dolch said. “There are still a lot of unknowns as to how we are handling this.”

Restaurant owners called him for advice, he said, noting queues of several hours for PCR tests in some cities and waiting days of several days for the results, which could lead to employees for long periods when restaurants are already understaffed.

“These are the kinds of calls I answer,” Dolch said. “[They’ll say] “I only have three cooks, I am a small restaurant with 11 people, I need to know when I can reopen my doors” … Safety is the first priority, but also timing is critical. They make sure they can reopen as quickly as possible in complete safety. “

The Broken Symmetry Gastro brewery in Bethel and Haven Hot Chicken in New Haven closed temporarily, citing the health and safety of their staff and guests, but both were open again on Sunday. On December 29, J. Timothy’s Taverne closed its main dining rooms for several days due to a “severe staff shortage,” according to a Facebook post, and instead offered take-out and limited seating in its. pub with a menu consisting only of chicken wings, chicken fillets and fries.

The Plainville Wings destination plans to resume normal activities on Tuesday, a restaurant representative said.

John Ginnetti, owner of 116 Crown and Meat & Co. in New Haven, closed his restaurants during the New Years to protect staff and customers. He made the decision because of “the changes in the social circle of people during the holidays as well as the swollen crowds over the New Year,” he wrote in an email.

He said Crown Street businesses would resume normal hours this week. The sandwich shop reopens today, and the cocktail bar is back in service on Wednesday. It offers rapid tests to all employees who believe they have been exposed to COVID-19.

“[We are] ask our employees and guests to pay close attention to any symptoms that should tell them to stay home, ”said Ginnetti.

In this archive photo, and example of a hot pizza being taken out of the oven.  It's at Sally's Apizza in New Haven on April 23, 2021.

In this archive photo, and example of a hot pizza being taken out of the oven. It’s at Sally’s Apizza in New Haven on April 23, 2021.

Lisa Nichols / Hearst CT Media / Lisa Nichols

Elsewhere in greater New Haven, two of the area’s most famous pizzerias have temporarily closed their dining rooms, with no concrete reopening date. Sally’s Apizza announced on December 26 that its New Haven and Stamford branches will only offer take-out and delivery. Zuppardi’s in West Haven won’t offer curbside pickup until Jan. 2, according to a post on its website, “due to rising COVID 19 positivity rates.”

Sally’s two sites are currently closed for routine scheduled oven maintenance, which is expected to take two or three days, Marketing Director Krystina Nataloni said in an email. After that, the pizzerias will reopen just for take out and delivery.

“As a precaution, with the increase in COVID cases, we want to ensure the safety of our team members and our guests. To do this, we have chosen to limit interactions by temporarily closing our dining room,” wrote Nataloni. “Currently, we do not have a set date for our dining room to reopen as we are monitoring the situation daily. Any updates will be posted on our website and social media.”

Zuppardi’s will offer curbside pickup only in West Haven until further notice, said Jim Ormrod, a fourth-generation Zuppardi who operates the pizzeria and his pizza truck with several other family members.

“It looks like we are preparing for a pretty dark time,” he said. “But we have a good curbside setup …[my family] has a good system that works for us. “

Zuppardi’s also has a satellite location at The Hops Company [THC] in Derby, a brasserie and an event space. THC remains open, he said, but Zuppardi’s will also offer a curbside service there. Ormrod said the pizzeria’s planned take-out location in Ansonia was also just weeks away from opening.

This sign outside of Zuppardi's Apizza in West Haven on April 23, 2021.

This sign outside of Zuppardi’s Apizza in West Haven on April 23, 2021.

Lisa Nichols

Ormrod said he believes the Zuppardi dining hall may be closed until spring, “unless we see a big change in the numbers and hospitals are doing better. [before then]”.

Dolch said he was concerned about the survival of the restaurants. A New Years Eve shutdown might not “make or break” a business, he said, but “next January absolutely will if you can’t maintain consumer confidence, do it in all confidence. safety and get people to continue to support the restaurant in one way or another. “

A survey earlier this year showed that restaurants in Connecticut are still suffering from the effects of the pandemic. About three-quarters of local restaurant sales in August were lower than in 2019, according to information from the Connecticut Restaurant Association.

Many have closed permanently and those that have remained open are paying more for food and goods, the survey showed. Labor shortages, inflation and supply chain issues have also affected Connecticut restaurants, restaurant owners said.

“I wish I could give [restaurants] the magic answer, “Dolch said.” But I tell restaurants they’re not alone in this case. I tell them to call like-minded restaurants in their area, to find the best solution for you in the short term and also in the next two or three months, on how you are going to survive. There is no easy solution to this other wave. “

Igloos outside Wood-n-Tap in Farmington

Igloos outside Wood-n-Tap in Farmington

Courtesy of Wood-n-Tap

Some restaurants that have installed outdoor structures like igloos and greenhouses are seeing more reservations as people may be reluctant to dine indoors. At the Wood-n-Tap site in Farmington, the team introduced a series of igloos to their outdoor food court in mid-December and saw immediate interest, said Phil Barnett, CEO of Hartford Restaurant Group.

“We have a hundred bookings over the next two weeks. People have gone mad [for them]Barnett said. He said he believed the interest was due to a combination of factors: some diners are excited about the new offering and others see it as a safer seating option.

At Millwright’s in Simsbury, chef-owner Tyler Anderson has brought back his tiny village of heated and ventilated greenhouses overlooking the waterfall outside the restaurant. They were popular for small groups celebrating the holidays, he said, and he’s noticed a direct increase in greenhouse bookings as the omicron push continues.

Anderson said he hasn’t seen a significant drop in business, however. It had a few cancellations for Christmas and New Years Eve, but filled the open slots with customers who were on a wait list. He also plans a series of weekend dinners, “The Workshop at Millwright’s”, in the restaurant loft with a maximum of 30 guests each evening. The first month of the series, which begins January 13, is sold out.

Outdoor dining structures at Millwright's in Simsbury on December 2, 2021.

Outdoor dining structures at Millwright’s in Simsbury on December 2, 2021.

Lisa Nichols / Hearst CT Media

“Consumer confidence is not as bad as last year, in my opinion,” he said. “Tight [bookings] have increased, but reservations inside have not gone down. So it’s very encouraging. “

With reporting by Ginny Monk, Nicholas Rondinone and Sandra Diamond Fox.

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