Reflections in the Time of Pandemic: Resilience, Takeout, and Bedford Restaurants

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The past 12 months have been challenging, exasperating, and at times life-threatening for restaurants in Bedford.

But now, with Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent announcement allowing restaurants to open for seating at full capacity this month, many local business owners feel they’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

There have been two casualties. Panera on Burlington Road has been “temporarily closed” for several months. Sora, the restaurant at the Doubletree Hotel, closed with the onset of the pandemic and is just now starting to formulate reopening plans.

The Citizen reached out to every restaurant in town with seating to see how owners and managers felt about the relaxed dine-in restrictions and how they’ve survived the pandemic. Many noted that although the past year has been difficult, Bedford residents have shown their support for local restaurants in some unique ways.

B. Good, Bedford Marketplace

Fatima Delgado, manager at B. Good, was upbeat. The new criteria now make four tables available, accommodating up to 14 diners indoors, she said, and takeout is lively. The warm weather will mean reopening six outdoor tables, she added, which will mean “a lot more people.”

Bruegger’s Bagels, Bedford Marketplace
Currently, Bruegger’s Bagels is only open for takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery via DoorDash. However, manager Aleuda DaSilva believes the relaxed Covid restrictions will help business when the bagel shop does decide to open for in-person dining.

Although DaSilva declined to say when patrons would be allowed to dine-in again, she said business has been “very good” over the past year, despite so many dining restrictions. DaSilva said Bruegger’s plan is to “just keep doing what we’re doing.”

Bedford House of Beef, The Great Road
Jack Barounis, owner of Bedford House of Beef, believes the ability to open at full capacity will definitely help his business. “I’ve seen it [help] already over the past couple of days,” he said.

“I think we’ll be back to normal soon,” Barounis added.

When asked how his restaurant has struggled with the restrictions and mandates throughout the past year, Barounis laughed. “You don’t want me to answer that,” he said.

However, Barounis did specifically want to thank Bedford residents for their continued support. “I want to thank all the people of Bedford,” he said. “I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart—me and my family want to thank them. We’ve been here for 36 years and they came through for us.”

Blue Fuji, The Great Road
Lindsey Lin, a manager at Blue Fuji, said she believes the relaxed Covid restrictions will help business at her restaurant.

“We are planning to open for [dine-in] maybe next month,” she said

Despite being able to open at full capacity since March 1, Lin said Blue Fuji is only offering takeout and delivery currently. “Opening again is definitely going to be a big help,” she said.

Flatbread Company, Burlington Road
Stephanie Jelloe, a managing partner at Flatbread Company, believes relaxed seating restrictions will benefit her restaurant for many reasons. “Being able to have more guests dine-in is advantageous over take-out only, as the average spend per guest is higher,” Jelloe explained.

According to her, outdoor patio seating will be available as soon as she’s allowed to have it. “Increased seating puts more money in the pockets of our service staff who continue to struggle as much as the business,” she said.

Compared to pre-pandemic years, revenue has decreased by more than 40 percent, Jelloe said.

Although she’s “optimistic of the future,” Jelloe thinks the next year will be challenging for Flatbread Company, as her restaurant still has to pay off debt from the past year. Jelloe called the past year the “toughest” she’s ever experienced, but credited her staff for their resilience.

“We have been a big part of the Bedford community for 15 years now, myself included, and I only see our relationships in this town becoming stronger as we all get back to normalcy,” she said.

“Regardless of the struggles this past year, we are confident we will come through it as even stronger operators and community members on the other side. I am looking forward to seeing the smiling faces of all our regulars that I haven’t seen in a year.”

Ginger Japanese Cuisine, The Great Road
At Ginger, owner Meiling Khoo is waiting to open for in-person dining once all of her employees are vaccinated.

“If we can manage … we decided to wait for everyone to get the vaccine [before opening],” Khoo said. By June, she hopes her employees will be vaccinated and her restaurant will be open for dining again.

“We don’t [have plans for outdoor seating] because I share the lot with two, so I’m not [eligible] to have outdoor seating,” Khoo explained.

Like many others, Khoo credited Bedford residents for their support. She mentioned how some customers purchased gift certificates months ago and still have not used them yet. “So far, we’ve done pretty good because of all the customers’ support,” Khoo said.

The Great Wall, Great Road Shopping Center
Alice Molvar, owner of The Great Wall, said she “hopes” the ability to open at full capacity will help her business, which has seen a decline in sales during the past year. “There are days we get 14 people, all day,” Molvar said. “Not 14 tables—14 guests.”

She added that business has been dependent on takeout, since the dining room and bar have been closed.

Like most restaurant owners, Molvar is looking forward to nicer weather, since she hopes to add some outdoor seating by early spring.

For “lack of better words,” Molvar claims her business has survived the past year because she “keeps pumping in the money.

“With the people that are coming in, we are definitely not going to make it,” she said. However, Molvar did credit the community for being “supportive” and “loyal” throughout the past year.

“Some people come in just to buy gift certificates. And they buy the certificate and don’t even use it!” she said. “They say, ‘Oh, no, no, no — we’ll save it for some other time.’ I mean, how great is that? We really have the best, most supportive customers. I can’t even thank them enough.”

Holi, North Road
Sanja Ray, owner of Holi, said “we don’t have too many diners right now so the change in capacity did not make any difference to us.”

“I am hopeful things will change,” Ray commented.  “Over the weekend, some more diners started to come in,” while weekdays are still sparse. Meanwhile, “There are a lot of bills pending.”

Takeout has been a mainstay for Holi’s survival, he said. “Everybody has been trying to help us. I’m thinking in four to six weeks we will see more people coming in as they get vaccinated. I’m hopeful that will turn things around, not just for us but for all the restaurants.”

As spring approaches, “I am working with the landlord to see how much it will cost to put tables outside and see if that investment is worth it.”

Ken’s New York Deli, The Great Road
John Cronin, who owns Ken’s New York Deli across The Great Road from Bedford Common, said the worst appears to be over.

“Over the past couple of weeks, I have noticed probably an additional 10 to 15 percent for dining in,” he said, and we’ve had numerous calls about when we are going to put the tables outside. He noted that he is finishing up the paperwork for an outdoor dining permit beginning April 1.

The relaxing of capacity limits was helpful, Cronin said, because “we are fortunate to have a decent floor space.” The six-foot distancing requirement still results in the loss of a few tables. “Most of the orders are still takeout and with the good weather coming up the outdoor seating will compensate for the loss of tables inside.”

“The town, in general, has been very supportive of our business, and hopefully all the other businesses in town,” Cronin said. “We have been very fortunate with our loyal customer base and have been able to maintain our staff. We are definitely going to make it through.”

McDonald’s, The Great Road
When asked about their outlook on relaxed Covid restrictions, a McDonald’s employee immediately provided the phone number for the company’s accounting department. When told the accounting department couldn’t answer questions, an employee said he was “too busy” to do so.

Melting Pot, Burlington Road
Kirsten Fischer, who with her parents and sister has owned the Melting Pot franchise at 201 Burlington Road for almost 14 years, said weekends are getting busy. “We’ve got some staff that are amazing; they stuck it through with us,” she said. “Some of the programs to assist small businesses also have been very helpful.”

She noted that the fondue specialties make the establishment a “special occasion” destination. “A social meal sitting around a fondue pot—girls’ night out is a huge thing for us,” she laughed.” Melting Pot has initiated takeout of some menu items.

The capacity limit “really hurt on Valentine’s Day—we were inundated with calls,” Fischer said. Now “we do see hope on the horizon, especially heading into warmer weather. We anticipate a lot of pent-up demand.” Not everybody has suffered financially over the past year, and many of those who didn’t “want to go out and to celebrate.” There will be seating outside when it gets warmer, she added.

Melting Pot, Fischer noted, features “a lot of secluded booths and high walls,” providing an enhanced sense of safety. “We can’t move our tables around because we have burners fixed in them, so six feet apart is still an issue. The other thing that really affected us was the curfew, because our meals take a long time to prepare and eat.”

Minuteman Diner, The Great Road
Sheryl Poor, a manager at Minuteman Diner, said she thinks relaxed Covid restrictions will be beneficial. Just in the past few weeks, Poor said she’s noticed the diner has gotten busier.

“I think with people getting the vaccine, it seems that we have picked up,” she said.

Poor is looking forward to warmer weather, as the diner has plans to open outdoor seating on April 1, weather permitting. “We’ve been staying positive this whole time,” Poor said. “We’re just making it work.”

Peppers Grille, Great Road Shopping Center
Jim Morris said the relaxed capacity standard provides a little more flexibility at Peppers Grille in the Great Road Shopping Center. He was limited to 12 people at a time; now he can double that and still maintain distancing. Meanwhile, “People started learning we have takeout. On a Saturday night, it’s 75 percent takeout.”

“I’m feeling a lot better now than I was six months ago,” Morris said. “You know how when you were a kid you built a tower with blocks and someone came and knocked it down? I hope we’ve made it through the thick of the storm… I had at least 10 Christmas parties canceled.”

Morris continued, “I had to eliminate positions just to make the place viable. It has been a lesson on how to get by on less – a juggling act, to say the least.” He expects there will still be diners who are reluctant to eat inside, and he hopes to execute a warm-weather outside option. “One or two tables in front isn’t going to help me. I need to get five or six tables,” perhaps in the rear, he said.

The Select Board’s waiver of the 2020 licensing fees was “a really big help,” Morris said. “We have done some work with Suzanne and that has really helped us.” He was referring to the effort coordinated by realtor Suzanne Koller to raise money from donations, purchase from local restaurants, and donate meals to health-care workers on the job.

“The mom-and-pop shops are sweat equity,” Morris observed. “That’s the home-town feel.”

Posto, Bedford Marketplace
Joe Cassinelli, chef and owner, said he and his staff are finalizing plans and permitting for a tent in front of the restaurant, taking up five parking spaces. There will be 40 seats, and “hopefully they will still feel they are part of the restaurant. The town has been super helpful, and actually encouraged it.”

The state relaxation of capacity limits was helpful, Cassinelli said, but more importantly “it sent a message to the population. We definitely have seen an increase in business since then.” There were mixed results on collaborative efforts with other restaurants in his group. Painted Burro is still part of the Posto menu, while Elm Street Sweets is in “hibernation.”

“We are optimistic – we are looking at the glass as half full,” Cassinelli said. “We are looking forward to people coming out to dine again, and hope the community will come in and have fun again.”

Red Heat Tavern, Bedford Marketplace
At Red Heat, manager Patrick Hanafin said the ability to open at full capacity is “definitely going to help sales.”

Although the restaurant no longer has a capacity limit, patrons must remain six feet apart from each other and there’s still a six-person limit per table. “It’s still relatively the same guidelines, just not the same limits,” Hanafin said.

According to Hanafin, the past year has been “chaotic” due to Covid restrictions and the fact his restaurant was understaffed at times. However, he has noticed business picking up recently.

“The past couple of weeks sales have been a little bit stronger and it seems like momentum is in the right direction again,” Hanafin said.

He’s looking forward to nicer weather since customers will be able to sit outside and enjoy the patio. “Once we can open the patio, business does tend to pick up a little bit,” Hanafin added. “I would definitely say things are looking up.”

Steve’s House of Pizza, The Great Road
At Steve’s House of Pizza, owner Migen Stroni said sales have been “OK” during the pandemic since a majority of his business is takeout anyway.

“Not too many people sit inside,” he said. “Believe it or not, maybe one customer per day [sits in] the restaurant.” Because of this, Stroni said the capacity limit “doesn’t make a difference” for him.

The only change he’s noticed is a decrease in lunch-time customers. He believes this is due to the fact more people have been working from home.

“We used to get the business from Hanscom Air Force Base and the companies around, but they’re not working full force,” Stroni said. “Lunch is almost dead now.”

A return to in-person work at local companies is “the only thing that might help” business for Steve’s House of Pizza, Stroni said.

He thanked the community for their continued support throughout the past year. “The customers – the residents – they’ve helped us a lot during the pandemic,” Stroni concluded.

Virsa de Punjab, The Great Road
The impact of the relaxed capacity at Virsa de Punjab on The Great Road was significant, said owner Kishan Singh, although the 60 seats are still regulated by distancing requirements. Meanwhile, he said, he is falling behind on his rent.

In-person dining has been slow and “I’m hoping it’s going to get better soon – everybody hopes,” he said. “The companies aren’t open; everyone’s working from home.” Takeout has been an important option. The restaurant doesn’t have outside space that can be converted for dining, he said.

“The people in Bedford are helping us. They like us. They don’t all want Indian food,” Singh laughed, “but they’re still helping us.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a 5-part series, Reflections in the Time of Pandemic

  • Tuesday: Senior Citizens: Marjorie Roemer and CoA March newsletter message
  • Wednesday: Young Families Stephanie Keep; Tara O’Loughlin
  • Thursday: Students: Ryan Doucette, Emily Doucette, Brooke Shamon. and Will Froehlich
  • Friday: Faith Communities: Pastor John Castricum

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