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More Questions Than Answers: A Tough Week For Connecticut’s Restaurants

Brandon Lynch
Birch Hill Tavern in Glastonbury

It’s been a whiplash week for many people in Connecticut’s service industry. None more so than restaurant servers and bartenders, many of whom were laid off this week without warning, as Gov. Ned Lamont ordered eateries to move to takeout-only service.

Birch Hill Tavern in Glastonbury had to lay off the majority of its front-of-house staff, as well as many people in the kitchen. 

“I think most of all I feel sad,” said Jessica Cote, the tavern’s assistant general manager. “You know, the backbone of the community is restaurant workers, and bartenders and cooks. So, I’m sad for my staff, I’m sad for everyone in the community, and I think we’re gonna have to have creative ways to bounce back and work as a team in Connecticut to get the restaurant business back on track.”

Kassia Borgio found out Monday that she was laid off from her job as a full-time server at Capital Grille in Hartford. She said right now, all she has are questions.

“When will I be able to make money again?” Borgio said. “And when will it be safe to do that? And what is it gonna look like, and are people gonna come back? Is everybody gonna come back? And are we all gonna have jobs? I think it’s really just the unknown, and not knowing if we’re gonna be OK.”

At neighboring Ted’s Montana Grill on Front Street, bartender Brooke Berlet has been furloughed.

“The month of March is huge in downtown Hartford,” she said. “This weekend, there was supposed to be three conventions at the convention center. And we were ready to go for a busy weekend. And now it’s nothing, we all sit at home. Now it’s zero dollars instead of tossing a hundred or two into a savings account.”

Things are no easier for independent hospitality businesses. Jonathan Leff runs a catering company, and he’s worried about his family’s savings.

“In this business most of us don’t earn that much to have a whole lot of savings,” he said. “I rent, I don’t own, and my landlord is gonna want her rent first of the month. This is a huge hit. My wife waits tables and works for another caterer, so at any moment we could both be out of work.”

At Buck’s Ice Cream, a 70-year-old family business in Milford, no one’s been laid off -- yet.

“Obviously we don’t want to let anybody go, but that’s definitely a possibility at some point,” said Chris Buck. “It’s tough. Not only am I responsible for 11 other employees, but there’s a chance that I would lose my income as well if we had to shut down even temporarily due to a lack of sales.”

Jessica Dapsis is the owner of Something Simple, a cafe in Hebron she’s operated for the past seven years. Tuesday, she decided to close her doors, since doing takeout orders wouldn’t sustain the business.

“People are understanding, we’re understanding, too,” she said of her customers. “Obviously this is such an epidemic, I think it’s a smart thing to do right now so we can stop the spread of this.”

She said she’s been touched by the reaction from her regulars.

“Unbelievably supportive, wishing us well, and anything they can do to support us,” she said. “So it’s a great reaction and just says a lot about our community.”

Chion Wolf is the host of Audacious with Chion Wolf on Connecticut Public, featuring conversations with people who have uncommon or misunderstood experiences, conditions, or professions.
Harriet Jones is Managing Editor for Connecticut Public Radio, overseeing the coverage of daily stories from our busy newsroom.

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