I own a restaurant called the Crown Jewel, on a small island off the coast of Maine. One thing that was really challenging to begin with was the uncertainty of what lay ahead. All of the unknowns made it extremely difficult to plan for the season. Our restaurant is seasonal, which means we place a lot of orders for food in January and February in preparation for the summer months. Many orders were already placed and paid for, so unfortunately, when the pandemic hit, we knew that we weren’t going to be able to use a lot of the products we had purchased. We wouldn’t have ordered and scheduled much of what we did, had we known what the future was going to hold. But there was just no way of knowing back then.
We had to come up with an entirely different menu that would parlay well into take-out, as well as look at our systems to figure out just how many employees were needed to work on the smallest scale possible. We really needed to control our labor costs because we weren’t going to have the same amount of business as a regular season, but we still needed enough people to run a functioning business. There was also the consideration of transportation, because the ferry schedule was operating with fewer available time slots at a restricted capacity. Trying to get people to and from the island in the most efficient and safe way possible was a big priority, but is still a challenge. Unfortunately, because our restaurant has to stay open until a certain time to maintain business and the ferry doesn’t come at that time of the day anymore, we have to take a water taxi every night which is extremely expensive.
Something positive that we have identified due to this very different season as a result of the pandemic is an additional revenue stream that we didn’t know existed before. We knew that in opening our restaurant, we needed a creative source of income in order to make the numbers work to justify remaining open. Pandemic or not, we can’t survive off of the support from islanders alone. It’s a very small community, which means we are really reliant on people coming from away in order to have a real business. Through this logic and problem solving, we discovered boat-side delivery. This newfound revenue stream has been substantial in that it's been really— no pun intended— keeping us afloat during this time.
The restaurant and small business industry has been hit extremely hard by this pandemic, but it’s very encouraging to see people supporting their local restaurants. I do think that our landscape is going to look really different after this, because in this industry, margins are already so slim. For many people and their businesses, something like COVID-19 can be impossible to bounce back from. Even after the pandemic is over, I hope people continue to support their local restaurants because they are a really important part of a community’s cultural fabric. If we don’t want those things to go away, we really need to continue investing in the mom n’ pop shops over the big chains.
Written by: Siobhan Kelley