Darien restaurants continue to adapt as cooler weather approaches

DARIEN — With increased cases happening around the country and the state, the possibility has become very real that the governor could again impose restrictions on indoor dining at restaurants.

And even if he doesn’t, it remains a big question whether more patrons will be venturing inside to dine when—and if—cold weather settles in for the winter.

But local restaurants are striving to stay positive as numbers surge and the seasons change, doing their best to make what accommodations they can to augment business.

“Are we concerned? Yes,” said Carmen Vertula, general manager at The Goose American Bistro and Bar.

“If they’re planning on shutting us down again, I don’t think we can make it,” she said. “We do make our profits with the indoor dining.”

And while they have strived to make safe and proper accommodations indoors, including keep a large fire burning in the fireplace to circulate air and providing wide spacing of tables, not everyone is willing to dine indoors these days.

“It’s just kind of a constant worry,” Matt Karaban, general manager for Bodega Taco Bar, said of a possible shutdown. “It’s always in the back of our mind.”

The good news, he said, is that they’ve been through it once before and a “Plan B” at least already exists and could be re-implemented if worse comes to worst.

“This virus is killing us, literally,” said Bob Mazza, owner of the Sugar Bowl Luncheonette.

“Fortunately I own the building, so I’m not paying a huge rent or mortgage,” he said, but others are truly suffering the financial binds of reduced opportunities to service in-person customers.

“We’re all having a hard time keeping our employees working,” he said.

In an effort to make his limited indoor space safer and more usable, Mazza has taken the measure of purchasing movable plastic partitions, which isolate different tables—and the counter space—creating veritable separate dining areas that can be rearranged at will.

“We went to a lot of expense and labor to create this, but if it works it’ll be worth it,” he said.

“It’s working for us, especially now that it’s colder” customer Beata Cembrzynski of Norwalk noted, enjoying a safely partitioned corner table with friends and family at Sugar Bowl.

“I think they’ve gone above and beyond with the different stuff, so I feel very comfortable,” said customer Sami Seiffert of Chicago, who was dining at a partitioned space at the counter with Gavin McNulty of Darien.

“I think they’re doing a great job,” he said, noting he felt completely safe with this indoor dining situation.

But not everyone is ready to commit to eating inside, such as Grace Mitrano of Darien, who took advantage of the Sugar Bowl’s outside seats.

“I like eating outside because I just feel like it’s less likely to spread outside,” she said of the virus.

“With winter I’ll probably be staying home more, because I might not feel comfortable going inside,” she said, here or anywhere.

“I like eating outside, especially when it’s nicer out, and it feels less like Covid is a thing,” agreed her friend Hunter Fine of Darien.

“I think all the restaurants are doing a great job with precautions and things,” she said, however, “like the shields and making sure everyone’s safe.”

“It’s half and half,” Vertula said of customer comfort in regard to coming inside.

“We have people who have no problem coming inside,” she said, while others choose to make use of their outdoor patio, which has heat lamps in place against the cold.

“If it’s a nice crispy winter with no snow, people can sit out there,” she said.

“The main thing is that the people of Darien have been very supportive of us,” Karaban said. “(And) it’s much appreciated because it has not been easy on anyone.”

“Luckily we have not seen much of a drop-off,” he said, owing in part to an autumn of mild weather. “It seems like everyone is comfortable outside.”

“We’ve seen a downturn, about two weeks ago, with the colder weather and the spike,” said Roger Chamlin, manager at Ten Twenty Post, though it appears that more people have been finding their way back.

“Our Darien clients have been unbelievably loyal and we believe will continue to be so,” he said, “and we will continue to do our best to service them as best we can.”

“We have certain restaurants in Darien that we frequent,” explained Richard Hollyday of Norwalk, who was lunching with his wife, Janet Adams, last week at Ten Twenty Post, also mentioning The Goose and Bodega.

Owing to Adams’ compromised immune system, the couple must remain vigilant and so will likely not be venturing indoors anytime soon at any restaurant.

And yet, as they noted is more common in other countries—and even other parts of the United States—bringing along a blanket, or having ones that the restaurant provides, can prove more than enough to keep people comfortable outside when they’re eating, even if temperatures dip below freezing.

“I don’t mind,” Adams said. “We just bring a blanket.”

“We’re going to eat outside as long as the restaurants are willing to set it up and it’s not 20 below,” Hollyday said.