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The Hardest Part May Be Coming As Restaurants Look To Winter

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Rachael McDonald
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Restaurants have been some of the hardest-hit businesses in the pandemic. In Lane County, the industry lost more than 1,600 jobs since March, according to a regional economist. We checked in with three restaurant owners in Eugene. 

The coming fall and winter months mean less capacity for local restaurants since many have relied on outdoor dining to stay afloat. Ashley Hawkins owns Grit, a farm-to-table restaurant in Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood. She closed in March when the state shut things down. Then, in June, with the help of the CARES act, she reopened.

“Reopening in the middle of all of this was harder than opening to begin with.” Hawkins said. “And it was worth it though, I’m so, I feel really fortunate to have been able to qualify for the Payroll Protection and to work with everybody one more time and to really go out on our own terms.” 

Hawkins has decided to permanently shutter the restaurant later this month. She said, without outdoor dining, they can only seat four tables at a time and it just didn’t pencil out.

“Reality hit honestly when the fires hit and the smoke came through and that gave us a very strong idea of what winter would look like.” Hawkins said. “And I needed to make the decision because I wanted to be able to, you know, go out gracefully and say goodbye to everybody and be able to support my staff and do it the best way that we possibly could.” 

Hawkins said she’s sad to close the doors, but thankful for her loyal customers who stuck with them during the summer months.

Mark Kosmicki is co-owner of Party Downtown. They reopened the restaurant to dining in July when the city of Eugene closed off Broadway for the streatery program. That’s sunsetting at the end of October though. Kosmicki said they hope to keep serving tables outdoors when the weather permits. They haven’t been offering any indoor dining.

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Credit Rachael McDonald
Party Downtown and Party Bar have offered outdoor dining this summer.

“We’re going to keep having takeout and delivery, just like we’ve been doing all along since lockdown started and then we’re going to try to do a little bit of retail out of our bar-side.” Kosmicki said. “You know different cheeses and wines and our house made groceries, our homemade hot sauces and things like that.” 

Kosmicki said restaurants have been through a lot of challenges. He’s hopeful they can keep their staff. But he doesn’t think the worst is over.

We're surviving. We're keeping our heads above the water, but we are definitely not thriving.

“I think that through the wintertime it’s really going to be the hardest time for any of us so far because we’re lucky enough that when lockdown went into effect, a lot of us were able to pivot to takeout.” Kosmicki said. “Some of us closed for a while, but I think we’re kind of in for the hardest part coming up soon, I believe.”

Ibrahim Hamide has been chef-owner of Café Soriah on 13th Avenue for more than 20 years. The restaurant re-opened to in-person dining in June. They’re fortunate to have several different rooms and an outdoor patio, he said.

“We have been able to respect and keep the social distance and those 6 feet between each table.” Hamide said. “Needless to say, the patio, the outdoors, has been the most popular, of course, except when the smoke was here and no one wanted to sit there.”

Hamide said safety and cleanliness are huge priorities for him and his staff. He plans to keep indoor dining and take out orders  going in the fall and winter months.

“I think what we have done is adapted really well and we’re surviving.” Hamide said. “We’re keeping our heads above the water, but we are definitely not thriving.”

Hamide describes Soriah as something of a Eugene institution. He said after vandals broke the front windows of his restaurant last spring, the outpouring of support was huge. The local community seems committed to supporting their favorite restaurants. But it is clear the dining scene is very much changed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Copyright 2020 KLCC.

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