Local restaurants continue to persevere through the pandemic

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, September 8, 2020

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Area restaurants are still dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many are still seeing a heavy decrease in dine-in customers, others are finding their sales are flourishing.

Tony Perini, owner of Perini Pizza on Main Street, said people are still leery of coming back to the restaurant to sit down and dine in.

While Perini has between 16 and 18 tables open for guests, he said his busiest night has seen only 10 to 11 in use at the most.

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He added the restaurant partnered with Wayfast Delivery and saw takeout orders increase significantly when the dining room was temporarily closed to customers, which helped keep the restaurant going through these months of global health crisis.

However, serving mostly takeout orders means many of the extra purchases typically associated with dining inside the business, such as drinks, appetizers, salads and dessert sales, aren’t there to help.

Perini was able to keep from laying any employees off, but said empty tables inside the eatery have put a bit of pressure on the business’ finances.

“It’s a big difference between taking the pizza out the door and a family coming in, sitting down and eating, so that’s what makes it kind of tight on the purse strings. The bottom line just shrinks a little bit.”

However, Perini said his long history with the town has garnered a variety of faithful customers who have supported Perini Pizza throughout the pandemic. While it’s unclear how long things will continue as they are now, Perini is hopeful about the future and thankful for those who have continued to order, be it for a dine-in experience or takeout.

“We’ve gotten this far … I expect we can keep on going,” he said.

Walker’s Diner, also on Main Street, has been relying on good weather to ensure customers can still dine on-site.

Currently, Virginia restaurants do not allow customers to dine at bars. While customers at Walker’s are more likely to be seen enjoying a milkshake than a beer, the diner has opted to remove the option for inside seating. While customers can order inside at the bar, they enjoy their meals at the tables set up behind the diner.

Co-owners Steve Graham, Loretta Graham and Rob Chapman said the decision is one meant to protect both staff and customers, as the small size of the diner doesn’t allow for a lot of social distancing.

Steve said Walker’s Diner has been lucky lately with a streak of good weather, but when it rains the business does mostly to-go orders, of which there hasn’t been a large increase.

Chapman said the business did have to cut back staffing due to the pandemic, and hours have been shortened. He said things have been somewhat difficult for the business.

He added what restaurant owners and staff miss most is being able to sit down and talk with customers inside the restaurant. He hopes to be able to welcome diners back inside in the future.

Justin Brown, general manager at the Farmville Buffalo Wild Wings located at South Main Street, said the restaurant is actually doing better than last year in terms of sales.

“Believe it or not, sales are up from the year before,” Brown said.

According to Brown, Buffalo Wild Wings went to takeout only in March and was forced to lay off nearly all employees last St. Patrick’s Day. However, all employees were invited back once the dining room was reopened, and approximately 95% of staff were able to return.

He said when the restaurant allowed customers back inside patrons returned quickly. The restaurant has 13 tables available inside and four outside, and those tables are often full on a busy night.

Buffalo Wild Wings, Brown highlighted, has been partnering with Wayfast for years, and now does at least 5% of total sales with the food delivery business.

Brown said his expectations were exceeded in terms of an increase in business after the return of Longwood University and Hampden-Sydney College students. While the restaurant is doing well all-in-all, Brown, too, hopes for a day when things feel a little more normal.