I got laid off this year. Twice. From the same job. At first this sounds pretty crazy, but it’s 2020 and I work at a Spanish tapas restaurant in Philadelphia. I work at Amada, Chef Jose Garces’s flagship restaurant in Old City. Amada opened in 2005 and has been a hit since then. For the first time in its 15 year history, Amada has had to close its doors for almost six months because of Covid 19. There was a light at the end of a very dark tunnel in July. The city of Philadelphia was providing permits allowing restaurants to place tables in the street, and even closing streets that were highly populated by restaurants. Amada was part of the street closure of 2nd street between Market and Chestnut streets. Business was far from our busiest, but it was the slow season. We were doing pretty well for the circumstances. Then the world came crashing down again in the middle of November. New mandates from the city of Philadelphia prohibited indoor dining just in time for the cold winter months. Without heaters, or any real outdoor structures, Amada was once again closing its doors, unsure of its future, and laying off all of their hourly employees for the second time in 2020.
Covid-19 has been sweeping through the United States since March. This has led to mask mandates and shutdowns across the country. One of the industries that has been impacted the most is the restaurant industry. Restaurants were first shut down in March. Energetic, bustling dining rooms turned into quiet, deserted spaces in less than a day. Restaurants have been trying their best shifting to take out orders, joining new delivery services, and expanding their outdoor seating as much as possible. Still at the front of everyone’s mind is safety, not just that of patrons, but employees as well. Restaurants are already tumultuous places to work, very few of which provide health insurance or any paid sick leave. Balancing the expectations of guests along with following safety guidelines had been a challenge restaurants have never faced before.
Philly chef and restaurateur, Marc Vetri, has been incredibly outspoken on his twitter. He has been active retweeting and liking posts as well as tweeting himself about his frustrations with the federal government, Governor Wolf, and Mayor Kenny. Vetri stands firm on his beliefs- the actions being taken are harmful, and hurting the restaurant industry. Vetri owns several restaurants in Philadelphia and has felt the effects of covid first hand. He is in the same boat as many chefs and restaurateurs in the city and around the world: they are just trying to keep their doors open and stay afloat. When restaurants were allowed to begin operating outdoor dining in Philadelphia during the summer they were operating at less than their maximum capacity. Restaurants who typically had upwards of 40 tables were operating with less than half of that in their outdoor dining spaces.
In an article for The Philadelphia Inquirer Avram Hornik, the owner of Morgan’s Pier, stated “I believe that if the city worked closely with restaurant owners, we could come up with safe and creative solutions to keep our businesses open and minimize the spread of the virus.” This sentiment is felt by restaurant owners across the city of Philadelphia. Decisions are being made about their livelihood, and decisions that greatly impact their employees, and they have no input. Restaurants across the city have worked tirelessly to meet all covid safety guidelines. Many restaurants have been installing plexiglass and other physical barriers to create more safe seating inside their restaurants. Jose Garces’s resturant The Olde Bar located in the historic Bookbinders building created Fourteen private dining nooks to accommodate their guests.
There have been countless casualties caused by covid. #CLOSEDINPHL is a website that allows the user to track the status of restaurants across the city. It shows which restaurants are temporarily closed and which restaurants are permanently closed. One of the biggest losses to the restaurant scene in Philadelphia is City Tavern. City Tavern was located in a building owned by The National Park Service. The building was built in 1773 and restored in 1976 to line up with The United States’s bicentennial. The restaurant served colonial style food and their servers were dressed in costumes to fit the time period as well. City Tavern was a large tourist attraction, and with covid and the lockdowns and travel bans they lost most of their business and could no longer continue operating. City Tavern was a staple in the Old City community for over 20 years. Old City lost another staple with the closing of Continental Old City. Stephen Starr opened Continental at the corner of 2nd and Market streets in 1995. The martini bar attracted locals and tourists alike, but once again because of covid had to shutter its doors. Small, intimate dining rooms are not compatible with covid guidelines of operation. Although Continental is not closed permanently, it is closed indefinitely.
Covid has destroyed the restaurant industry, and truthfully, it may never rebound. Chefs, owners, managers, and employees are continuing to do all they can to create amazing guest experiences, but it’s incredibly difficult when they are so limited. Some restaurants are still operating on a dine in capacity outdoor with heat lamps and tents, but as it gets colder business is continuing to dwindle. It’s also incredibly dangerous to not only have guests outside as it gets colder but restaurant staff as well. The restaurant industry is interesting. It is a difficult industry with razor thin profit lines already. Restaurants are doing all they can to break even by offering specials and to go cocktails, beer, and wine, as well as opening pickup and delivery service. The restaurant scene in Philadelphia is changing dramatically because it is losing so many restaurants to covid, and without a relief plan in sight it is only going to get exponentially worse. There are restaurants in the city that have been operating for decades, but their owners are having to make incredibly difficult decisions about their futures.
Avram Hornik, For The Inquirer. “Morgan’s Pier Owner: City Officials Are Leaving Restaurant Owners out of the COVID Conversation: Opinion.” https://www.inquirer.com. The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 18, 2020. https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/commentary/philadelphia-coronavirus-restrictions-restaurants-shutdown-20201117.html?utm_campaign=Philly.com+Twitter+Account.
Henninger, Danya. “This Map Tracks Philly COVID Closings at Restaurants and Bars.” Billy Penn. Billy Penn, December 5, 2020. https://billypenn.com/2020/12/05/map-philly-covid-closings-restaurants-bars-closedinphl/?fbclid=IwAR0DOwWnImjAO4ZVukWTjaD9IbUiM6sJiN4KvDiIRhRLCmA2mXNZXHNbzXw.
Kellner, Hans. “Philadelphia Announces New ‘Safer at Home’ Restrictions to Fight Rising COVID-19 Cases: Department of Commerce.” City of Philadelphia, November 16, 2020. https://www.phila.gov/2020-11-16-philadelphia-announces-new-safer-at-home-restrictions-in-response-to-rising-covid-19-cases/.
Klein, Michael. “City Tavern, the Colonial-Theme Restaurant in Old City, Has Closed.” https://www.inquirer.com. The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 2, 2020. https://www.inquirer.com/food/city-tavern-revolutionary-war-restaurant-philadelphia-walter-staib-chef-old-city-20201102.html?fbclid=IwAR3Nz2_kb7LPzwG9YHoZczhGtdLAOWdQp0IJ5ID62e7zysUi7oahloCTJOU.
Klein, Michael. “Plastic Panels and Dining Nooks? Restaurateurs Are Making Changes to Get Diners Indoors.” https://www.inquirer.com. The Philadelphia Inquirer, November 2, 2020. https://www.inquirer.com/food/plexiglass-coronavirus-safety-indoor-dining-marc-vetri-jose-garces-olde-bar-fiorella-alba-20201030.html.
“Most Recent Closings.” ClosedinPHL. Accessed December 1, 2020. https://closedinphl.com/.
Staff, Billy Penn. “12 Different Philly Streets Swap Cars for Outdoor Dining This Weekend.” Billy Penn. Billy Penn, September 25, 2020. https://billypenn.com/2020/09/25/philadelphia-outdoor-dining-fall-2020-coronavirus-safety-rittenhouse-midtown-village-old-city-headhouse-italian-market/.