When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Franklin Street restaurants were hit with a double whammy.
UNC students, a significant source of revenue for many of these businesses, have been off campus since March, and dine-in service has been prohibited statewide since March 17.
Governor Roy Cooper's current executive order is set to be replaced with a new, slightly eased set of restrictions on May 8. But when North Carolina enters Phase 1 of reopening under this new executive order, restaurants can still only serve takeout and delivery.
Don Pinney, owner of Sutton’s Drug Store, which now closes at 2:30 pm, said the Franklin Street location currently makes about 35% of its normal revenue.
For a family-atmosphere restaurant with Tar Heel memorabilia plastered on the walls, the thing that draws many customers to dine-in at Sutton’s isn’t always the food, but the experience. It's hard for takeout service to replace that, Pinney said.
“Eating out of a Styrofoam container is just not the same thing for our customers,” he said.
Sutton’s qualified for a small business Paycheck Protection Program loan when the first round started on April 3, Pinney said, but the loan took 22 days to process.
Pinney said he might use part of the loan to keep his waitstaff on payroll, since they have no customers to wait on in the absence of dine-in service.
Cosmic Cantina manager Yeshua Sanchez said the restaurant was able to transition well into takeout and delivery service only, but has received far fewer orders than it did when students were on campus.
Sanchez said he estimates that on a normal business day before coronavirus, about 200 customers would come in. Since the stay-at-home order, Sanchez said, on a good day Cosmic may serve 50 customers.
The Purple Bowl had an easy transition to takeout-only service due in large part to its mobile ordering app created in September, said Natalie Salib, a manager at the business. Salib said The Purple Bowl’s hours have been reduced to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the week, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the weekend.
“We aren’t hitting the same numbers because people are coming in at a lower percentage,” Salib said. “But we are doing well enough to be open and functioning, thanks to our loyal customer base.”
Salib said The Purple Bowl has not received a PPP loan.
Sup Dogs closed temporarily for two weeks in March and reopened on April 4, said General Manager Claire Perry. Perry said hours of operation are reduced to 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. every day, and the number of staff reporting into work has been reduced.
Sup Dogs qualified for a PPP loan during the second round of distribution, which is helping the restaurant's two locations keep its employees on payroll, Perry said.
Some Franklin Street restaurants haven't fared as well. LOTSA Stone Fired Pizza announced on its Facebook page the permanent closure of its Chapel Hill location, where it has been in business since 2015.
Others have been able to transition more smoothly to takeout and delivery-only service.
Eddie Williams, owner of the 42-year-old Time-Out Restaurant, said the restaurant has been able to maintain its normal hours of 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without taking a “timeout” for the pandemic.
“We haven’t been closed for even a minute since all of this started,” Williams said.
Although Williams applied for a PPP loan, he said he hasn't yet heard back.
Time Out already had a functioning takeout and delivery system, Williams said, which helped it transition completely away from dine-in service. But he said it’s still difficult to maintain business without potential customers strolling down the street.
“When the entire university shuts down, that takes away half of our customer base,” Williams said.
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