Restaurant owners pivot to stay afloat during pandemic

Luis Perez is the owner of 1958 Cuban Cuisine in Westfield. The restaurant that is usually packed with patrons hoping to get a table, was completely empty, like many other restaurants and businesses in town.

“For anyone coming to Westfield, the town is closed,” Perez said.

That’s because on Monday evening the town officially required all restaurants and retail to provide delivery or curbside pickup only in an effort to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

Marilou Halvorsen, the president of the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, says restaurants everywhere are now grappling with how to survive and take care of their employees in this sudden new reality.

“It was a 90% layoff on Monday night of restaurant employees. Those that choose to do delivery or takeout will retain some of their back of house. If this goes for for weeks, 45% of independent businesses may not reopen,” Halvorsen said.

“I had already informed them last week and I helped some them apply online for unemployment. We have some here, but it’s really hard to even know what we can have. It’s a day by day process,” Perez said.

On the ability of shipments of food he added, “Things are beginning to get scarce. A distributor told me that the’re out of chicken.”

Perez says the goal is to remain creative and optimistic, and he says that starts in the kitchen.

“I have an idea to do a menu like a package, like ‘this this and this for a family of six’ and have a special price from them. Everything is going to change day by day. I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. But I have to be fast enough to change the rules and what I am doing to survive,” he said.

Perez says in addition to ordering from local restaurants, people can also help out by making sure to tip a little extra when they receive their delivery.