BRATTLEBORO — With winter coming during the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants are strategizing and staying open.
David Hiler, co-owner of the Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery in Brattleboro, said his team ordered porch enclosure walls to keep the outdoor biergarten open. He described the walls as “see-through vinyl walls with heavy duty zippers,” which will allow customers to see the great view of the Connecticut River.
The walls will be closed “but I think it will keep the wind out and the cool out for the most part,” Hiler said. The restaurant also will add three flame towers for a total of five.
Hiler anticipates the area will have enough warmth for customers to enjoy beer and snacks or wait for a table downstairs. He said it will be more comfortable than the parking lot.
The biergarten has capacity to seat 100 people during “non-COVID times,” Hiler said. But the area hasn’t hosted more than 50 people at any given time, he said.
There are talks of hosting small events such as acoustic music.
“We’ve got to see how much of the cold it’s going to keep out,” Hiler said. “I’m sure there will be days where we can’t open it.”
Knowing people are a little bit apprehensive about eating indoors, he said the downstairs dining area has “high ceilings and really great ventilation.” His team decided against putting plexiglass around the bar, as it would obstruct views, so they haven’t had any bar seating since reopening during the pandemic.
They’re still cranking out to-go orders. And their 16-ounce cans of beer have been “a bigger seller,” Hiler said.
Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro built cabanas. Customers can reserve the spaces to keep warm and their distance from others while enjoying products made by the distillery.
Kurt Johnson, owner of The New England House in West Brattleboro, said his team put out a heater and sheeting to block the wind to keep outdoor service going as long as possible. But they aren’t going to winterize the porch.
With large space indoors, Johnson said the restaurant can safely spread out customers.
“We’re very careful with masks and sanitation and all of that,” he said.
The restaurant purchased an air purifier with special lighting that helps kill viruses.
“We’re thankful for our customer support,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of loyal customers. Take-out’s been doing pretty good for us. We’re looking to expand on that.”
Johnson said he feels for the smaller restaurants that don’t have the same space to play with. He called the Everyone Eats program a “positive thing,” as it contracts with local restaurants to provide meals to struggling community members.
“If this thing progresses in Vermont and we get closed down then we just shift to take-out even more and it gives us a chance to just plan for the future,” he said. “If we keep plugging away, we’ll be OK and get through.”
At Dot’s Restaurant in Wilmington, owner Patty Reagan announced plans to take a break from Nov. 8 to 24.
“After careful consideration and in this crazy Covid world, I have decided to close for two weeks ...,” she wrote on Facebook. “My staff has done a fantastic job working under less than ideal circumstances and I think the break would be beneficial for us all. When we reopen we will be offering family style take out meals in addition to our regular house menu. Thank you for all the support and look forward to seeing you all soon.”