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With New Round Of Public Health Restrictions, Pittsfield Restaurants Bracing For Grim Winter

A blue awning that reads "Otto's Breakfast & Deli" stretches over a brick building with windows and a snowy sidewalk
Josh Landes
Otto's in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker again rolled back the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan on Tuesday, instating a 25 percent capacity limit on restaurants, gyms, houses of worship and more starting Saturday. For business owners like Luke Marion, of downtown Pittsfield eatery Otto’s, the news is another blow in a brutal year. WAMC asked Marion what Baker’s new orders mean for him, his business and his staff.

MARION: I think you'd have to print my answer as "expletive deleted," to be quite honest with you. Really, what the f***. I mean, that's it. You know, I get it, I really do know, restaurants are a vector for for infection. I understand that. But I mean, this is like, it's like constantly being pummeled, is what this is like. You know, city, state restrictions, whatever it's- You know, we had, we opted into it, to shut down indoor dining a few weeks ago, before the city announced it in Pittsfield, and, you know, to make sure that we weren't going to have to close if we got COVID. Obviously, business took a hit, because, you know, there's only so much carry-out and delivery people want. So what, like two weeks ago now, they reopened indoor dining. We started to see a little bit of a pickup for indoor dining, and you know, it's, you know, starting to be able to pay our bills and all that, and 25 people's honestly nothing for us.

WAMC: What's the normal capacity at Otto's?

We can fit 100 people in the restaurant. We have seating for about 80. And, you know,  with the distancing and all that, the guidelines for that, you know, 60 per table is six people per party, we can fit anywhere between 50 and 60 people comfortably. So this really, really draws us down in a big way.

Now, paint me a picture. Before the pandemic, before the restrictions, how many tables are you serving on, let's say, a busy weekend day?

A normal weekend day before pre COVID, we could expect to serve, you know, between 250 and 400 people probably.

What size of a staff do you have, and what impact has the closure broadly had on your ability to support that staff?

Before we closed, between part-time and full-time employees, I usually had between, you know, 12 when we draw down to, in the summertime, probably closer to 15, 16 employees. Right now, I have probably eight employees. And most of them are part-time. Every once in a while somebody will touch full-time, you know, that 32 hours, but most of them are part-time right now. And, you know, even if you get 30 hours right now, you don't get unemployment. So, it's been really tough on my employees.

Looking forward, what is the winter looking like from this point onward, given the new restrictions?

Ah, so that's tough question. So it says that it's at least two weeks, so I have to assume it's probably gonna be longer. So now it's, do I close for two weeks, and kind of stop the bleed, as it were? Obviously, I won't have any revenue coming in. But I also won't, you know, I won't have payroll, I won't have a lot of bills for food and all that stuff. So do I close for two weeks, beginning next week, essentially, you know, run out the food I have this weekend, and then you know, say well, see you guys in two weeks, hopefully, to kind of try and save some money. It's been a crapshoot. I know most most restaurants around, we've been really struggling for the past month or two. Normally, during the holidays, you can expect people to open their wallets, you know, everybody's out shopping, everybody's out eating. I think people are running out of money. And they're just not coming out in force. So I've been hoping, alright, well, you know, we'll get through Christmas, people will be like, alright, cool, that's over, and now we'll start spending money on going out again. But now, now we have, you know, a 25% cap on who we can let in the restaurant. And that really just kind of destroys  my optimism about, alright, well, can we- Are we going to pick up again after Christmas? Because we're not going to pick up again after Christmas now.

Do you feel like you've gotten enough support from the government during the pandemic?

Absolutely not. No, you know, that's the tough part. You know, I do believe that indoor dining should be closed. And I do believe that, you know, we should be a lot more shut down in general than we are to get rid of this thing and to get ahead of it as quickly as possible. But it's an unrealistic expectation to have that happen because we're not getting enough help from the government. Yes, you know, I got the PPP, and I've gotten some stuff from the city and from the state. And there's always new $5,000, $10,000 grants coming up, but at the end of the day, you know, it's just, it's not enough. The money we got from the PPP back in April, that sustained us through the summer and helped me keep my employees on full time and everybody getting paid. And we built the restaurant and we run a restaurant, and you know, we know we need to make X amount of dollars in order to break even. And that's just- That can't happen with what's happening right now. And without help from the state- you know, the city doesn't have enough money to help us- but without enough money from the state and from the fed especially, this is not going to be a happy winter for restaurants.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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