Local restaurants strive to stay afloat

Local restaurants strive to stay afloat

Since students left campus nearly deserted in March, restaurants typically flocked with students have empty tables.
Published: April 12, 2020 | Updated: April 14th, 2020 at 11:56 am
Marshall Street remains largely empty except for healthcare workers who work at the nearby hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic
Marshall Street remains largely empty except for healthcare workers who work at the nearby hospitals.

Desolate. Eerie. A ghost town.

These are words that Syracuse restaurant managers used to describe Marshall and Westcott street areas, locations usually brimming with students in the final weeks of the school year. But after SU announced classes would be online for the rest of the spring semester on March 16, local businesses are suffering amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s certainly a scary time. The hard part for a lot of businesses from my perspective is how do you recover from this?” said R.C. Faigle, the owner of Orange Crate Brewing Company, also known as Lucy’s, on South Crouse Avenue. “It’s going to be really troubled and trying times for people.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in March that all non-essential businesses must close, but restaurants were deemed essential and are allowed to stay open only through takeout and delivery.

This has forced some eateries to close their doors entirely for the time being, such as Bleu Monkey Cafe and King David’s Restaurant on Marshall Street, Varsity Pizza on South Crouse Avenue and Alto Cinco on Westcott Street. Other food businesses have had to make the necessary adjustments to abide by lockdown orders and stay in business.

The Syracuse Economic Development Corporation announced it would dedicate $500,000 to provide zero percent interest, 180-day emergency funds to small Syracuse businesses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Applications have closed for the grant, which can offer some businesses up to $25,000. Faigle said he had applied to some grants for Orange Crate and was waiting to hear back.

But despite efforts to bolster local businesses, several establishments such as Orange Crate, Acropolis on Marshall Street, Beer Belly Deli and Mom’s Diner on Westcott Street said they had to cut staff and reduce operating hours.

Paul Murray, kitchen manager at Beer Belly Deli, said deliveries have stayed steady, but total business is down to about one-third of its usual.

Beer Belly Deli on Westcott street remains open to serve takeout and delivery. This is a favorite of many Syracuse University students. Westcott street is also very empty.
Beer Belly Deli on Westcott street remains open to serve takeout and delivery. This is a favorite of many Syracuse University students. Westcott street is also very empty.

Faigle said Orange Crate isn’t bringing in 10% of what it normally would.

Steve Papazides, manager of Acropolis, said the restaurant has had to reduce staff from four or five people per shift to two people.

Eva Essi, a manager of the family-owned Mom’s Diner, said only she and her brother come into work anymore.

“It’s depressing to come to work actually,” Papazides said. “We’re used to being so busy but now it’s like, we do a lot of cleaning.”

Acropolis, Orange Crate and Beer Belly Deli, which are usually open until 2 a.m. on weekends, have shortened hours to all close before midnight each night. Mom’s closes at 2 p.m. instead of 3 p.m. Employees, who would normally come in early and leave late to clean, are now also cleaning during shifts, and often wearing masks and gloves.

Murray said he’s working with a “skeleton crew.” Beer Belly Deli had to take its staff from 15 people down to three, and is currently operating at cost.

“At this point, I actually looked out into the dining room the other day and thought, ‘Wow it’s gonna look weird when it’s full of people again,’” Murray said.

Essi said despite the decline in business, she’s seen a lot of support from the Westcott community, which is both residential and student-based.

“We’ve received numerous letters in the mail saying they hope we are doing OK and our neighbors are calling us and checking in and ordering takeout,” Essi said. “And that’s really what a neighborhood like this is all about, supporting your neighbor.”

Murray also said that at Beer Belly Deli, regular customers have been ordering delivery or takeout. Faigle said Orange Crate donated dinners to a floor at Upstate University Hospital, and he has plans to send food to Crouse Hospital as well.

The restaurant managers weren’t sure what to expect for the future, but all hoped that business would return to normal within the next few months.

“Fortunately, with our location if we can just hang in there, there is a light at the end of the tunnel because eventually the university will open,” Faigle said. “It’s just a guessing game of how much time that will be.”

Avatar for Catherine Leffert

is a digital producer to The NewsHouse.

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Avatar for Catherine Leffert

is a photography graduate student and visual journalist for The NewsHouse.