Local restaurant owners prepare for slow summer even with lifted restrictions

Published: May. 29, 2021 at 7:35 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - For 15 months, Lady N’awlins Cajun Cafe owner Jake Crocker says he was in the fight of his life to save his business while following pandemic safety guidelines. Now with social distancing and capacity restrictions lifted, Crocker says his restaurant is ready to bounce back.

“It was a battle, but we survived, so now we’re ready to thrive,” Crocker said.

Crocker says he’s preparing to take down the plexiglass and the social distancing signs as more patrons flock to his restaurant for Memorial Day weekend. He says being able to keep his Main Street bar open four hours longer — until 2 a.m. — has also made a huge difference in his bottom line.

“We had to close in March, and we had to close again in November when everything started spiking, but since we’ve reopened, we’ve been doing really well and these measures make us actually able to do what we can do,” Crocker said. “We’re actually able to cover our bills.”

But the Cajun Cafe owner didn’t come out of the pandemic completely unscathed. His second business, F.W. Sullivan’s, was one of many local businesses forced to close its doors during the pandemic

“I lost F.W. Sullivan’s, which you know it is what it is,” Crocker said, “It was a bar, it just didn’t work during an age of almost a year and a half in the age of social distancing, but it left its mark.”

Despite the uptick in holiday foot traffic, recovery won’t happen overnight for many local businesses.

Joe’s Inn in the Fan District is open for business, but its owners say opening at full capacity just isn’t an option right now. This weekend, Perly’s Restaurant & Delicatessen on East Grace Street will stay closed because of staffing issues.

Crocker says many people left the restaurant industry completely with no plans on returning.

“A lot of folks that were in the restaurant business who got laid off in the spring and again in the fall when everything started spiking took a look in the mirror and asked themselves, ‘Is this what I want to do for a living when my job can get shut down immediately by the powers that be?’” Crocker said. “We wish everyone that moved on the best and we’re happy to have the ones that came back in our family as well, but that’s the main issue.”

But labor shortages won’t be the only hurdle facing the city’s restaurant scene.

“The Richmond summer slowdown is what we call it,” Crocker said. “Richmond is not dead, but it is slow during the summer.”

With the summer season fast approaching, Crocker says more people will be traveling for vacation in hot destinations, taking their money and business with them.

“July and August are usually pretty bad,” Crocker said.

With the state now restriction-free, Crocker says cities like Richmond will be relying on the uptick in business right now to help ease additional losses during the summer.

“Come back. Keep supporting us. Just because we’re back and we have a couple of good weeks doesn’t make up for 15 months fighting for survival,” Crocker said.

Business owners are encouraging more people to eat locally and to order take out directly from them to better support their recovery in the coming months.

“If you do deliveries, don’t go through the third-party apps because they take 30 percent of the revenue and we make no money off that,” Crocker said. “Come in, because these summer months are not boom time for us and we’re still going to be fighting it out.”

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