August 10, 2020

Navigating the pandemic: how a local restaurant has handled the COVID-19 outbreak

Ian Lei ’21, Co-Features Editor

Messages exhibiting CrepeBerry’s services feature in its exterior display. Amelia Childs, the owner of CrepeBerry, made publicity for her restaurant a high priority. “We're one of the smaller places in Wellesley, and a lot of people just assumed we'd closed, so making sure everyone knew we were still open was important,” said Childs. Photo by Ian Lei.

Amelia Childs, owner of CrepeBerry, a vegetarian creperie and smoothie bar, said that the initial cases of COVID-19 in Wellesley were scary for her. She was worried that her employees, customers, and residents would get sick.

She had been tracing the development of the virus in China and Italy two weeks prior to the first case of COVID-19 in Wellesley, which appeared on March 6, so she was prepared. She heightened sanitation measures in the restaurant, used disposable cutlery that came in individual packets, and asked customers to bus their own tables. 

“When you own a restaurant, you’re always making sure everything’s clean and you’re always adhering to extremely high standards, but we amplified that even more to ensure everything was done as safely as possible,” said Childs.

Located on 352 Washington Street, Crepeberry, which Childs opened in 2017, was her second restaurant. Childs chose the location because it was across from the train station and close to her previous customers. Her first restaurant was a small cafe in Newton and she needed to split from her business partner, so she had to find a new location.   

Childs said that she, unfortunately, had to let a lot of staff go because of the pandemic, an especially difficult decision because she said that her staff was like family. Childs started with seven employees and now has one. 

“It was awful to be totally honest with you. I’ve been in management since I was 19 years-old, so I’m no stranger to firing people, but to have to lay people off — that’s a very different feeling… It was a very hard conversation to have with some people, but, thankfully, everyone understood” said Childs. 

Besides laying off staff, Childs said that an initial problem she faced was food shortages. The produce companies that Childs previously brought from couldn’t get enough food or switched their business models. Furthermore, a lot of their sales representatives were laid off.

“Now you’re going through different people and your delivery times change. There is a lot of looking forward and making sure that you understand the new ordering schedules. Sometimes you have to go to different places to get to food. You have to make sure that you’re really on top of everything,” said Childs. 

Childs also said that she had to cut down on offering certain foods to ensure that CrepeBerry wasn’t wasting ingredients and food. For example, CrepeBerry no longer sells baked goods because they do not have a long shelf life. 

Furthermore, Childs said that CrepeBerry has a young clientele, so she lost customers due to the closure of colleges such as Babson and Wellesley College.

Childs is not alone in experiencing these problems. A survey conducted by the James Beard foundation, which included over 1,400 independent restaurants owners across the country, found that owners had to lay off 91 percent of their hourly workforce and nearly 70 percent of their salaried employees. 

Additionally, on May 8, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their monthly assessment on job losses, reporting that food and beverage establishments lost 5.5 million jobs in April — over a quarter of total job losses for that month. 

The same survey from the James Beard Foundation also found that eighty percent of restaurant owners in shutdown areas were not certain that they would be able to reopen after the pandemic ends. 

Childs, however, is confident that her restaurant can open after the pandemic, remarking that the small size of her location serves as an advantage.

“We’re a lot smaller than a lot of places, so I’m able to scale back more than other people. And there’s the other benefit of only having one location. I think if I had two locations, I’d be a little nervous right now,” said Childs. 

Childs noted that Wellesley’s community has been especially supportive of her restaurant. 

“I have the best customers in the world. We have people who come to CrepeBerry multiple times a week to buy food for veterinary clinics, and we’ve had people pay for me to send food to a nursing home staff and to hospital staff,” said Childs. “I’m extremely thankful for a lot of people who bought gift cards right away. A lot of people have left very generous tips for my staff members.”

Ben Workman ’21, a recent first-time customer at CrepeBerry, said that the restaurant’s vibrant exterior display caught his attention as he was driving by. He said that he wanted to buy from CrepeBerry because it was a local restaurant.

“Local restaurants and other small businesses are what make Wellesley so great, so it’s important that I, as a member of Wellesley’s community, support them, especially because they don’t have the same resources as chains and other big restaurants do,” said Workman.

Wellesley’s town government has also been supporting restaurants. Amy Frigulietti, the town’s Assistant Executive Director, said that the Board of Selectmen compiled a list of restaurants upon Governor Charlie Baker’s closure of nonessential businesses. The list includes all the restaurants in Wellesley and the different meals and delivery services they provide, making it more accessible for residents to purchase from restaurants.

The Community Fund for Wellesley also partnered with the Board of Selectmen to create the Wellesley COVID-19 Relief Fund. 

According to the fund’s description on the town’s website, its purpose is to “support the urgent and evolving needs in our Wellesley community.” Furthermore, “funds raised will be granted on a rapid and rolling basis to non-profit organizations and Town departments providing critical services and support to our Wellesley community.”

Frigulietti, who is also on the Advisory Board of the COVID-19 Relief Fund, said that Wellesley’s Health Department has been using money awarded by the fund to form a partnership with some restaurants in the town such as Captain Marden’s, North End Pizza, Mark’s Pizza, and Alta Strata.

“The Health Department developed a list of seniors, immunocompromised individuals, individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, and other Wellesley residents who cannot leave their house for food. In turn, these restaurants have to deliver about sixty meals per week to individuals on this list,” said Frigulietti.

Although CrepeBerry is not among these restaurants, it is involved in a different initiative to help local Wellesley restaurants, an initiative that Childs spearheaded as a member of the Rotary Club of Wellesley.

The club has provided $12,000 to each restaurant participating in the initiative, which includes CrepeBerry, in exchange for 600 meals delivered to front-line workers at twenty of the state’s medical facilities as well as to workers in nursing homes. Through its partnership with the local restaurants, the club ultimately plans to raise $200,000 through the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.

According to the GoFundMe site, the initiative, “will not only help support the restaurants in our town but will help businesses associated with the restaurants, including but not limited to produce & dairy companies, paper suppliers, etc.”

Childs said that she started the initiative because she knew that local restaurants were going to be closed for more than the initial three weeks and wanted to help them.

“I just saw a need. When you’re a business owner, you want to be proactive, as opposed to reactive… For me, if all the other restaurants go, then people, in general, aren’t grabbing around as much. We all need each other,” said Childs. 

In addition to the Rotary Club’s initiative, Childs sought aid through various disaster relief programs, small business grants and loans, and through the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The program, designed to alleviate the economic burdens placed on small businesses, is part of $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which President Donald Trump signed into law on March 27. 

Childs, however, like many small business owners, expressed discontent with the PPP’s initial round of funding, stating that it was unfair. A survey conducted by the James Beard Foundation, found that although 88 percent of 1,800 respondents applied for loans through the program, the PPP only approved 41 percent of loans. Furthermore, eighteen percent of respondents did not hear back about their application. A New York Times analysis also found that $750 million of the program’s $349 billion total went to 200 publicly traded companies. 

The PPP also exhausted its funds quickly. On April 16, the Small Business Administration hit its $349 billion limit, stating that it was “unable to accept new applications for the Paycheck Protection Program based on available appropriations funding.” The program, however, began its second round of funding on April 27 when it resumed accepting applications. 

In March, Governor Baker ordered the closure of all nonessential workplaces through April 7.  Hee subsequently extended that date, first until May 4 and then until May 18. In response to the extended date, hundreds of residents gathered at the Massachusetts State House on May 4 to protest the governor’s coronavirus restrictions, calling for Baker to reopen the economy. 

However, 84 percent of Massachusetts residents approved of Baker’s handling of the pandemic, and Childs was among the 85 percent of residents that supported his decision to extend the stay-at-home advisory and closure of nonessential businesses until May 18. 

“I was very happy about that, to be honest with you, which is not how everyone felt. But I have a responsibility to my staff to keep them safe,” said Childs. “I can tell you had all the restaurants opened up on May 4, CrepeBerry would have continued to just be takeout and delivery. I have a responsibility to my staff and to my customers to make sure everyone’s safe.”

According to Baker’s reopening plan, which he announced on May 18, restaurants will be allowed to reopen their outdoor dining areas in Phase 2, which begins on June 8, and there will be at least two weeks before indoor dining is allowed. Childs, however, is taking a more cautious approach.

“Despite the regulations that were announced [by Governor Baker], we will not be opening indoor dining for the foreseeable future — probably not until the end of the summer at the earliest,” said Childs.

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