Pittsburgh eating places grapple with COVID-19


“We are in the same boat as everyone else. We take it day in, day out, ”says Bethany Zozula, Whitfield Chef at the Ace Hotel.

Restaurants across the city are implementing advanced security measures to protect the well-being of their guests and employees. These measures include frequent hand washing, disinfecting tables and other touch-sensitive surfaces between inserts, disposable menus, limiting capacity and setting a greater distance between tables, providing additional hand sanitizer, and not placing glassware on the table before use.

“We already adhere to a high standard. But we want people to know we are serious about hygiene, ”said Sheree Goldstein, owner of Square Cafe.

The restaurant owners also ensure that the staff in front of and behind the house stay home if they show signs of illness. Some, like Don Mahaney of Scratch Food & Beverage, extend paid time off for employees who need it. The Independent Hospitality Group (Hidden Harbor, Independent Brewing Company, Lorelei) is expediting the provision for sick leave so all employees are eligible. Full-time employees in larger establishments such as the large Burrito Restaurant Group have the opportunity to take paid vacation days. Pittsburgh’s Paid Sick Day Act, effective March 15, will provide relief to some workers who are forced to stay home.

“We can’t work from home,” said Sean Gazzo, server at Burgh’ers Brewing and a member of Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a national not-for-profit organization that works to improve wages and conditions for restaurant workers.

Gazzo’s employer pays more than the hourly minimum wage for tipped workers (just $ 2.83 an hour in Pennsylvania), but he says, “My income depends largely on tipping.”

In some restaurants, business has already slowed down. While others are still doing fine, there is a feeling that it could get worse in the coming weeks. “Any drop in income will have a serious impact on restaurant workers,” said Bobbi Linskens of ROC United’s Pennsylvania Chapter.

Mike Chen, co-owner of Everyday Noodles and Night Market Gourmet and founder of the Pittsburgh Chinese Restaurant Association, says he has seen an average business decline of 20 percent in Chinese restaurants in the area. But, he says, the Pittsburghers have supported Chinese-owned companies overall; Chinese restaurants in Pittsburgh are less affected than in cities like Seattle and New York. “It doesn’t just hurt Chinese restaurants here. They are all restaurants across the board. We just don’t know what’s in store for us, ”he says.

Goldstein says business at the Square Cafe is stable right now; She believes closed schools and people working from home could be an asset to her Regent Square restaurant at this point. “People feel like a community resource. A lot of people think this is their second kitchen, ”she says.

However, restaurants that are heavily dependent on travel and convention companies have suffered. For example, eleven contemporary kitchens and some of the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group’s downtown concepts have lost their business due to canceled trips. The Ace Hotel in East Liberty was also affected. “We’ll have a bigger picture of what things will be like when we see what life is like when most of the events in the cultural district close,” said Casey Henderlong, director of events and catering at DeShantz Group.

Restaurants across the board also offer extended take-away and delivery options. Union Standard, for example, prepares family meals to take away, including whole wood roast chicken and accessories, a loaf of warm potato bread with Amish butter and jam, and a liter of smoked celery root and chicken veloute soup. Some establishments, like the large Burrito Restaurant Group, are expanding the availability of delivery services like GrubHub and DoorDash, while others are exploring options for in-house delivery services. The DeShantz Group will add a roadside pick-up menu for their restaurants. “People can call, order and pay by phone and drive up to the restaurant to pick them up. And we’ll show them, ”says Henderlong.

“If you feel uncomfortable while eating, just give us a call for delivery or take away,” says Chen.

If you are considering eating out, here is a compendium of the best advice: Stay home if you feel sick. There is no reason to put yourself or others in danger. When you feel okay going out, do so as often as you like, but be sure to follow best practices like frequent hand washing. Call ahead to make a reservation and hold the reservation. Restaurants could use a little more security in such an uncertain time. Call the restaurant direct for takeout or delivery and tip as if you were dining at the restaurant. Tip more generously than usual in restaurants too. Buy gift cards from restaurants that offer them. You are now providing income to these companies and enjoying a meal later.

“There are a lot of strangers and I think people should follow their guts. They should be clear about how comfortable they are and how they feel physically and emotionally when they enter a public space, including restaurants, ”says Maheny of Scratch.

“It’s important for people to know that the Pittsburgh restaurant community is committed to ensuring that we take all the safety precautions we can. We want to provide great food and service to anyone who wants to eat with us, and we want them to feel safe doing so, ”says Henderlong.

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