Coronavirus

Dining Leaders Reflect on Silver Linings from a Turbulent Year

From outdoor dining options to simplifying and revitalizing, dining industry is resilient

One silver lining of the pandemic has been the addition of outdoor dining options, says Oswald chef and owner Damani Thomas. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

For those of us in the restaurant business, this last year has certainly been a doozy. Devastatingly catastrophic is probably more accurate, but now that the industry is coming back to life, I’ve been feeling euphemistic and optimistic enough to reflect on my own pandemic silver linings. 

In many ways, it felt like a year of a bizarre, grudgingly forced, yet ultimately enjoyed form of retirement in my mid-30s. I saw my family a lot, had more quality time with my girlfriend, and through walking around town (often aimlessly) I gained a much deeper appreciation for the beautiful place I call home. I figured local restaurants must have gleaned some positives, too, so I asked four of the biggest names in town, from popular brunch spots to fine dinner houses across the county: What have been the pandemic silver linings?

Oswald chef and owner Damani Thomas 

“For me, the silver lining has been the exposure that the outdoor dining area has created. I feel like it catches the eye of every person who walks this corner and really softens it visually. It looks a lot more hospitable and has been popular and prime seating over the past year. Also, takeout has become a thing and a viable option for many who like to dine at Oswald without dining at Oswald. Our food travels a lot better than I thought it would, and the guests and I have been really pleased with the quality.”

Cafe Rio owner Jeanne Harrison

“The silver lining has been that at least we are happily open again: lunch only for now, but a return to dinner service when we can find more staff. We’ve also simplified and pared down the menu. It seems like people are more into casual and shared cuisine these days. The guest feedback has been great on the food and outdoor dining, and people are really happy to have lunch here, which we had never offered before. The community has been amazing and super supportive. Without them we would not have survived through the multiple shutdowns and reopenings. My staff have really endured and been amazing as well.”

Shadowbrook owner Ted Burke 

“When the pandemic hit, I turned to the adage: ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ Another version advises that one should take those lemons and make margaritas. Because we were completely closed eight of the last 12 months, we had lots of time to make lemonade … and margaritas, and repave our two parking lots, paint inside and out, and refinish the wood floors and paneling. Now that we have reopened with expanded hours from noon every day, our focus has turned toward our blessings: our amazing staff and dedicated and talented management and kitchen leaders. But, most of all, we are so grateful for our relationships with our many loyal fans, friends and clients who have blessed us along the way with their support and kind words.”

Harbor Cafe owner Daniel Voskoboynikov

“This last year has been a stressful roller coaster nightmare, but there have definitely been some silver linings. One has been the opportunity to restructure in a way that would have been difficult to do normally, and switching to being open five days a week has allowed for a better work-life balance for me and the staff. We have also reduced our menu size, which has the benefit of strengthening our consistency and quality of food and streamlining the job for our cooks, who work incredibly hard. This whole thing has been a real exercise in resilience and adaptation, and I can say that right now our restaurant and staff are stronger than ever.”

Editor’s note: The author is an employee of Shadowbrook. 

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