By Denise Dunbar | [email protected]
At 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Chadwicks owner Trae Lamond posted signs announcing the restaurant was closed for all but carryout business, then walked across the empty seating area and plopped wearily into a chair. It was St. Patrick’s Day, normally one of his best days of the year, and his restaurant was empty.
Like most people, Lamond has been reacting to the dizzying pace with which COVID-19, popularly called coronavirus, has spread and to the seemingly minute-by-minute change in the public response to the pandemic.
“Our whole plan was we were going to ride it out until we were told not to open. When that happens, we would switch to carryout and delivery. Your options through this thing are carryout or delivery or both – or you close. That’s it,” Lamond said.
But Lamond’s plan to ride it out was overtaken. One contributing factor was Gov. Ralph Northam’s order Tuesday banning restaurants from having more than 10 customers present at a time.
“I knew it was going to be a dramatic change,” Lamond said. “But as recently as this weekend, [I thought] ‘Even though Paddy’s day is on a Tuesday, we might be packed.’”
And now Lamond, like Alexandria’s other restaurant owners, is left trying to figure out how to help his business – and his employees – weather this major disruption.
“This whole thing is public health,” Lamond said. “How do we ensure the public’s health and safety without ignoring our employees?”
Lamond figured his kitchen staff would be fine with the switch to carryout. It was his service staff he was worried about. So he developed a plan that he hopes will take care of them as well.
“We are going to do the delivery part ourselves, as long as our drivers are insured,” Lamond said. “Say we went through Uber Eats. Our kitchen staff would be making food and we would be making money, but that would leave our front of house staff completely out of the loop.
“So in us offering our staff the ability to do deliveries, we could add a small delivery fee plus whatever tips they get and that would go right in their pocket so they could continue to pay rent and put food on their tables. And it would still be cheaper [for customers] than Uber Eats,” he said.
Lamond said he is working with an app company through the Chadwicks point of sale system so that people can order food through the app. The restaurant will also take call-in orders from people who are not comfortable with on-line ordering and apps.
“Our clientele doesn’t maybe include the most technologically inclined,” he said. “So we are also going to be promoting that they can call us. They can place a carryout or delivery order. For safety reasons we’re not going to take cash.”
Chadwicks would prefer for people to order through the app though, once it’s set up.
“That way it would be seamless. That way all that would happen is they would come and grab the bag,” Lamond said.
Like many other local restaurants, including Alexandria Restaurant Partners eateries, Chadwicks will be offering specials on gift cards while his building is closed to eat-in customers.
“If people love Chadwicks, or ‘insert a local business name here;’ if they want to help make sure it’s here after this whole thing is behind us, even if they don’t like carryout food, they can order a gift certificate,” Lamond said. “It will bring us money right now and you can use it when all of this is over. And our staff can have a roof over their heads and food.”
In addition to missing out on St. Patrick’s Day business, which Lamond called a “standout for the first quarter of the year,” Chadwicks recently underwent an extensive interior remodeling. New booths, lighter walls and new fixtures both opened up and brightened the seating area in the front room.
“It’s a kick in the head,” Lamond said. “If I had known, I wouldn’t have closed for a week in January [to remodel]. Cash flow in a restaurant is tight. January and February are your slowest times of the year. … It’s a particularly bad time for this to happen.”
Lamond said Chadwicks has been rocked by the rebuilding of Alexandria’s waterfront since he purchased the restaurant in 2015. One after another, the new boat club was built directly across the street, Hotel Indigo and Robinson Landing went up within a block and Watermark at 211 Strand St. is still being built right next door.
When all of the construction is completed and the pandemic passes, Chadwicks will be well situated. Getting to that point is the difficult part.
“I bought this place July 2015. I think they had just started building Indigo,” Lamond said. “We’ve been in the middle of this thing ever since. It’s just been [looking for] the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s one thing we were rushing the renovations to look nice when everything is done and everyone moves in next door.”
Despite the setbacks, and uncertainty about when he will be able to re-open Chadwicks’ doors to eat-in customers, Lamond remains confident his establishment will persevere.
“We’ve survived floods and hurricanes and derechos. We’ll survive this,” Lamond said. “It’s just not going to be comfortable.”