Restrictions on restaurants and bars, issued in light of the coronavirus pandemic, are hitting hard for some New Hampshire small business owners – including at least one who’s already made the decision to close his doors.
Until yesterday, chef Brendan Vesey ran the Joinery in Newmarket, serving his take on Southern food in a refurbished mill downtown.
The restaurant was already running on thin margins, Vesey says – “the receipts that are coming in from this week are paying the bills from last week.”
After Gov. Chris Sununu ordered eateries to close to all but takeout and delivery through April 7, Vesey says he knew he wouldn't be able to keep paying his staff for long.
"I felt if we dragged this thing out for a few weeks – if I, deep down, already knew where we were financially – that that wasn’t fair to them,” he says.
Vesey announced Monday night on Facebook that the Joinery would permanently shut down. Still, he says he supports the governor’s mandate to restaurants, and is glad the decision wasn’t left solely to business owners like him.
"I’m more concerned, I guess, about everyone’s health and well-being right now,” Vesey says. “But it’s just a pretty surprising thing to feel everything kind of yanked out from under you all at once.”
Vesey and his workers plan to file for unemployment, under new eligibility for residents affected by the virus. So far on Tuesday, he says, the state benefits website has seemed overloaded and they haven't been able to get through.
“I’m also homeschooling my two daughters right now, which is amazing and time-consuming, so once they go to bed I’ll try again,” he says.
Vesey will also focus on keeping his other restaurant, Botanica in Portsmouth, afloat through the downturn. He says people can help local small businesses like his by buying gift cards to use after restrictions are lifted. And he says chefs like him will have to adjust to a temporary new normal.
“Right now we have to find a way to work smart without working – we can’t go there, we can’t do what we do and host people in our spaces,” he says. “The thing that we’re good at is not what the world needs right now.”
Vesey says people in his industry will focus on taking care of each other, their staffs and communities, until it’s safe to reopen. He hopes that coincides with restored consumer confidence – so that more restaurants aren’t forced to close in the aftermath of the outbreak.