Not as usual: Restaurants in Durham face setbacks and find new opportunities as pandemic continues


It has not been easy for many bars and restaurants in Durham since the stay at home order was issued March 25, 2020and the resulting social distancing policies.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper expanded the amended phase 3 stay-at-home order on January 27, and will remain in effect until at least February 28. restrictions concern restaurants and bars: they must close between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., the sale of alcohol for consumption on site is prohibited between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m., masks must be worn at all times and the assembly limit of mass remains at 10 people inside and 50 people outside.

Food establishments in downtown Durham have had a variety of experiences going through the pandemic and these restrictions, and while some restaurants are doing better than others financially, it has not been. the case for no one.

“We stopped Sit & Dine in the store and limited it to two customers at a time,” Nat Jirasawad, owner of Sugar Koi Ice Cream, wrote in an email. “Our store hours have had to change to be shorter, and that’s impacting revenue.”

Many small businesses, like Sugar Koi Ice Cream, are struggling financially during the extended restrictions. Jirasawad wrote that despite the financial difficulties, they did not receive adequate support from the local government.

“The lack of foot traffic would kill small businesses like mine. And I don’t get any help from the local government, ”Jirasawad wrote. “The business near me has closed for good and there is no sign of new businesses coming in, which is very scary.”

There is a long listing currently closed businesses in Durham, including Allday Cafe, Trattoria Salve and The Atomic Fern. Some establishments have closed permanently, notably Gonza Tacos Y Tequila and Lucky’s.

Fasil Tesfaye, another business owner from Durham, is trying to make the most of the situation. As the owner of Goorsha, an Ethiopian restaurant on West Main Street, he had to go through many roadblocks to keep his restaurant alive.

Most Goorsha services consist of pickup and delivery at the moment, Tesfaye said, with 95% of customers ordering online. Goorsha handles large group deliveries through Durham Delivers, which eliminates the high service charges of the most popular delivery apps, he said.

Seth Gross, owner of Bull City Burger and Brewery, has also adapted to the new conditions by overhauling the way his business handles take out orders. Although they’ve never taken orders over the phone or online before, they’ve had to adapt quickly as 80 percent of their customers are now curbside, Gross wrote in an email.

“It was a huge technological challenge, a training challenge and experience with types of packaging. We didn’t want our fries and hamburger buns to be soggy, ”Gross wrote.

Since most of Durham’s small businesses are self-funded, there aren’t many funding resources available during the pandemic.

“When it comes to loans, that’s just a relief. Most of us can’t qualify because we don’t have a good track record, since we’ve paid our own debts, ”Tesfaye said.

Goorsha did not get a disaster loan, Tesfaye said, although they did get a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program, which allowed the restaurant to survive. In addition, they received a Facebook black-owned business grant of $ 2,500.

However, like Jirasawad, Tesfaye is unhappy with the support provided by the government.

“Especially from the federal government, it was slow and confusing at first,” he said. “It’s always cumbersome, especially for small businesses, and especially for restaurants.”

Mr Tesfaye was not eligible for any other support and noted that the current process for seeking help from organizations is “cumbersome” and “overwhelming”.

“Before you go through all the paperwork, there is something that disqualifies you,” he said. He added that the documents do not make an effort to be clear on what they are asking for, so by the time he asks the necessary clarifying questions, the money is exhausted.

In addition, the large number of applicants for financial support programs makes it difficult to secure any type of funding when an opportunity arises, he said.

“Yeah, it helps some people, but unfortunately I’m not one of them, never had any luck,” Tesfaye said.

Gross agreed with Jirasawad and Tesfaye’s feelings.

“I think the people of Durham and the Triangle are absolutely wonderful,” Gross wrote. “They have been understanding, flexible and generous since the closing. I wish local and state authorities had been more helpful and had better communication with small businesses. “

The change is particularly important for Gross. “I think we’ve rotated so many times that we’ve become dancers as we try to find a way to stay alive,” he wrote.

Goorsha also broke new ground to create benefits from what started out as a financial problem, turning a group event space – previously unused during the pandemic – into a cafe.

GoJo Cafe is a specially designed meeting place for Duke students to relax and study over Wi-Fi, serving paninis made from the same flavors as the traditional Ethiopian cuisine featured in the restaurant.

“You don’t feel like you have to rush. This is the atmosphere I was trying to create, ”Tesfaye said. He looks forward to expanding this new business after COVID-19 restrictions expire, to create space for hookah, live music and small bites.

Jirasawad wrote that Sugar Koi Ice Cream also created incentives for the Duke community to become more engaged in their business.

“I want to inform all students and employees of Duke, if you come to the store and show us your student ID or Duke employee ID, we would be happy to offer you 10% off your purchase,” he said. writes Jirasawad.

As the pandemic continues, Gross is trying to keep morale high. He pointed out that the Duke community is always welcome at Bull City Burger and Brewery.

“We are losing money every day, but the students have kept us from going bankrupt all together,” he wrote. “We can really tell when they are in session because our patio activity is picking up a bit and we definitely need it.”


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