Cold weather could put restaurants into deep freeze

November 09, 2020

WOLFEBORO - As the weather turns cold, the finances of restaurants in the time of COVID-19 are in danger of going into a deep chill.

That's why the current brief stint of unseasonably warm weather has come as a blessing to restaurateurs who have been able to continue to use outdoor seating at a time when indoor dining is limited to allow for the social distancing required under state guidelines intended to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Oral Kelly, general manager of Nolan's Brick Oven Bistro, said he is being forced to operate at 50 percent capacity.

"It’s a struggle, you basically can't do enough volume to make a profit," he said. "You can break even if you're lucky."

He would normally be able to seat 16 people at the bar and operate 12 tables in his dining room. To allow for social distancing, he is forced to limit his seating to eight at the bar and six tables.

"It was a big plus that we could seat people outdoors," Kelly said. "This weekend wasn’t bad. It was warm enough that people could eat outside, but when outdoor seating closes, we’re down to 35 or 40 percent of overall capacity."

In order to increase takeout capacity, he had to invest in computer capacity and infrastructure to allow for online ordering.

"Every day we have to pivot and at same time maintain customer and employee safety," Kelly said. "The fallout of that with guests and customers is that not everybody wants to mask up and follow the rules. They yell and scream at you, and you just shrug it off."

Under state guidance, customers are supposed to wear masks when not seated.

The economy in and around Wolfeboro is heavily dependent on tourism, an industry that has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus epidemic.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen announced Monday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved a $600,000 loan to the Wentworth Economic Development Corporation to establish a loan fund for small businesses and entrepreneurs. The funding should be sufficient to help approximately 16 rural businesses, retain 60 full-time jobs and create 30 new jobs, she said. Recipients have not been selected yet.

"Granite State small businesses need access to capital to weather the economic impact of COVID-19, return to normal operations and continue to develop and grow," Shaheen said.

"These new federal funds for WEDCO are an important investment that will support Lakes Region businesses, sustain and create jobs and strengthen our state’s recovery from this crisis."

Mary DeVries, executive director of the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce, said some business segments have been hit harder than others during the pandemic, and small hospitality companies are being challenged.

"If someone is still in business and worked hard to be in business, at this point, if they need a little help to stay in business, that makes a lot of sense for everybody."

She said the area received a great deal of visitors this past season, but social distancing requirements can make it difficult for businesses.

"The actual physical space that one business has compared to a similar type business that is larger is certainly having a significant role for restaurants and retail shops," she said.

"Each of these businesses, there is a family behind that business. In addition to the pandemic and the guidelines having an impact on operations, there can also be a multitude of scenarios outside of business life that have increased demands and stretched some businesses further than others."

She said she continues to see a lot of out-of-state license plates in the area and wonders whether more people are staying in their summer homes year round in hopes of avoiding COVID-19 outbreaks in larger cities.

She is not seeing a lot of business failures.

"Knock on wood, no," she said.

"But I do think it has perhaps pushed some business owners into questioning themselves if this is the time to retire."

By:  Rick Green
Source: Laconia Daily Sun