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Pittsfield Eateries Prepare for Another Long Indoor Dining Shutdown
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
05:53AM / Saturday, November 14, 2020
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Gage O'Brien, Veronica Bone, and chef Raymond Stalker of the Lantern show they're ready to deliver safe service.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Two well-established local restaurants are preparing for a second indoor dining shutdown after the city of Pittsfield announced new regulations in light of the recent surge of COVID-19 cases.

The owners reflected on what the novel COVID-19 has taught them about resilience and navigating the hospitality industry during a pandemic.

Luke Marion, owner of Otto's Kitchen & Comfort, announced on Nov. 11, just one day before the city suspended indoor dining, that Otto's would be offering delivery and takeout only because of the recent uptick in cases.

The owner posted a statement on the internet that read:

"We will be moving to carryout & delivery only effective 11/12/2020.  This is for our safety and the safety of our customers given the recent resurgence of COVID-19 cases."

Marion said the list of reasons to suspend indoor dining at the restaurant was compiling in his head every day. Finally, he and his wife and fellow owner, Lindsey, decided that it was the responsible thing to do.  

Marion said it was in gratuitous timing with the city announcing shutdown the next day.

The couple reasoned that they could tough it out and hopefully they won't contract the virus, but if they did, they would have to shut down for three weeks and would be in a tougher situation.

"The choice is pretty obvious at that point to shut down," he concluded.

Otto's has been open through the pandemic, serving Pittsfield with takeout food in the darkest times of the shutdown. Marion reported that the restaurant is doing very well and posted good profits through 2020.

But, he says, it has been a constant adjustment running in the restaurant.

When the shutdown first began, Otto's did one nightly dinner special for pickup or delivery five nights a week. Now, they plan to do a "greatest hits" dinner every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday for carryout or delivery until 8 so that customers can enjoy the most popular dinners of the past.

Marion said Otto's has been abiding by all COVID-19 guidelines; as everyone should, and in turn has been backed by the community.

"The real key is to stay out of the social media limelight," Marion said. "So, just don't do anything wrong. Don't not do what you're supposed to do."

Owner of the Lantern Bar and Grill in Pittsfield and Nudel in Lenox, Bjorn Somlo said the first shutdown in March was a lot more unknown than this one, and that the Lantern is prepared to serve customers on a takeout basis through this shutdown.

"The first shutdown was very difficult because the information restaurants received was very poorly distributed," Somlo said. "And I had hoped that in a time like this that the agencies would be more proactive about reaching out rather than hoping information was found."

In March, the Lantern went dark and did some volunteer work to feed people while taking the time to plan for reopening.

Previously a bustling establishment with a capacity of 60, the eatery had a maximum capacity of 24 people including staff when Gov. Charlie Baker announced that indoor dining could return with half capacity at the end of June.

This included a barebones staff to lessen the amount of people in the restaurant. With this, staff wages were increased so they didn't have to work and be exposed as much to take home a better wage.

Somlo, chef Raymond Stalker, and front of house manager Amanda Bates identified the employees that were most financially at risk and made sure they received a sufficient amount of hours upon reopening.  Nobody that asked for hours didn't get them, Somlo said.

"We took a little while to adjust to a model that recalibrated the restaurant to be take out friendly and reduced occupancy friendly."  Somlo said. "The second shutdown affects us less in the sense that our financial numbers will probably take a hit unless we can find a way to communicate to the audience how good this product is to go."

To Somlo, the most important thing with this year is that making plans doesn't make as much sense as making sure he is prepared for the worst and on the side of getting through the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Keeping staff and customers safe is a priority, profit is really not what this year is about. It's about just maintaining and safety is first," he said. "This is above us, it's bigger than us."

Instead of being bitter about the situation, Somlo is making it a priority to minimize risk and get this over as soon as possible.

Somlo emphasized the importance of businesses and customers following U.S. Centers for Disease Control's guidelines for dining, saying people looking for places to misbehave need to be held accountable as well as any establishments that allow patrons to break rules.

"It's so easy to follow the rules, and transmission from mask to mask is incredibly low," he said. "Nobody likes this, no one wants to wear masks, no one wants their restaurants empty or closed, but the general public also has to be a factor in this."

Somlo said people in hospitality are built to deal with adversity and demanding situations, making them warriors during this time. People who do this work have been waiting for the moment to show that there is more to being a cook and a server, there's some really moxie involved, he said.

Nudel is currently closed, there is discussion about launching a takeout pop-up a couple of days a week. Somlo said there is no version of Nudel that is COVID-19 friendly for dine-in service because of it's small nature.

According to Somlo, the biggest challenge has been finding the most effective way to inform the public about what The Lantern offers. He said each type of social media has a different audience and requires different talent, which makes it tricky.

"We really hope to get more people to try the chef's incredible food," Somlo said. "and will do everything we can as a part of downtown Pittsfield to weather the storm and hopefully see brighter days on the other side."

The Lantern is currently in its second year of business. Before the start of COVID-19, Somlo thought that this year would be the restaurant's blockbuster year because it took the first year to figure things out, train staff, and get the word out.

The Lantern will be keeping the same operating hours for now, Tuesday through Saturday noon to 8.

"The virus can catch any of us, and it's not to say that we won't be caught but it's to say that if it does happen its going to be about something that is unfortunate rather than something that is preventable."  Somlo concluded. "We're in a healthy place to say that what we have to do right is just to get through this and we're not gonna let COVID-19 break our spirits because we can recognize that it is a tough time and people in this industry are built for it."

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