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Falls Church Restaurants Rocked by Coronavirus Pandemic

Dave and Rebecca Tax announced they will close their restaurant, Clare & Don’s Beach Shack, until April in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: News-Press)

As the coronavirus pandemic brings activity in the region to a veritable standstill, the hospitality industry is being hit especially hard with the public ramping up its social distancing effort and authorities implementing new restrictions on restaurant and bar service in an effort the prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser has shut down all on-site service at district bars and restaurants effective 10 p.m. Monday and in Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan has ordered all the state’s restaurants and bars to close. Arlington County issued a statement Monday night pleading with its bars and restaurants to close their dining rooms and switch to carryout and delivery service only as of 10 p.m. tonight.

Online reservation website Open Table reports Washington, D.C. restaurants have seen a dramatic decline in diners compared to one year ago. According to Open Table data, what started as a 10-percent dip in diners last Monday, steadily increased to a 55 percent decrease, year-over-year, on Sunday. Several Falls Church restaurants told the News-Press they’ve seen similar significant declines — as much as 70 percent — in business over the past week.

While Falls Church has not yet been subject to any government-mandated closures or service limitations, many of the Little City’s restaurants have been busy enacting new protocols and altering service in response to the novel coronavirus.

Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken and Taco Bamba, both in Pimmit Hills, and Liberty Barbecue in the City all announced Monday they will shift to delivery and takeout service only. Audacious Aleworks, Spacebar, Northside Social and Dominion Wine and Beer have gone takeout only and Starbucks, with three City locations, said Sunday it was instituting a to-go model for all of its stores nationwide.

Late Monday, Bakeshop announced it was closing its Falls Church location, effective 4 p.m. Tuesday, until further notice. “After 3/17 we’ll still provide next-day delivery to the area from our Arlington location so please give us a call there for delivery orders!” the shop wrote on Facebook.

Monday afternoon, Ireland’s Four Provinces announced it will be closed Tuesday and postpone its much-anticipated St. Patrick’s Day celebration. The annual party is the biggest day of the year for the Falls Church restaurant, year-after-year featuring an all-day packed bar and dining room.

“We have made the decision to postpone the 4Ps’ St. Patrick’s Day celebration to a time when it can be more heartily enjoyed,” the restaurant announced in a post on Facebook. “While we will be closed on Tuesday, March 17th, we will continue to modify our offerings and practices to the changing recommendations surrounding public health.”

On Thursday, the News-Press postponed its annual Falls Church Restaurant Week promotion scheduled for March 23 but the biggest news came from longtime Falls Church establishment Clare & Don’s Beach Shack which announced Sunday night it would shutter until at least next month.

“It was rough,” says David Tax, who, along with his sister Rebecca, owns and runs the popular restaurant and bar in addition to Lazy Mike’s Delicatessen. “The kitchen staff and my sister were in tears.”

But Tax tells the News-Press he knows it’s the right thing to do.

His top priority during this time, he says, is the well-being of his employees. “All gift card sales we make right now, they’re going directly to paying our staff,” says Tax. Just two days ago, a new on-line portal to purchase gift cards to the restaurant was set up and Tax says they’ve already sold $500 worth.

“We told our staff to reach out if they need to,” he says. “We’re not going to let anybody starve.”

The Taxes are keeping their deli, Lazy Mike’s, open for the time being, providing delivery and take-out via its side service window. Tax says a lot of his customers are senior citizens and he’s told them to reach out via the restaurants’ Facebook pages or by cell phone (both he and his sister have given out their personal numbers to regulars) and told them to text or call if they need food.

Despite the disruption and damage it will cause his businesses, Tax said they’re in a pretty decent position, all things considered. “This isn’t a high time of the season, so if we can get this behind us, [we’ll be OK.]” He’s more concerned, he says, about some the City’s other restaurants like Clare & Don’s next-door neighbor, the nascent Thompson Italian.

Opening to rave reviews and much fanfare last August, the locally-and-family-owned restaurant is facing an increased challenge as it doesn’t receive a lot of to-go business nor does it currently deliver, though owner Katherine Thompson told the News-Press they are working on figuring out delivery “ASAP.”

The dining room at Thompson Italian is still open, with some tables removed to provide added space in between diners, and the restaurant’s full menu is also available for pick-up. Thompson says they were going to launch brunch next month, but now those plans are on hold. (UPDATE: Thompson Italian has announced it will be closed through the end of the month.)

“Supporting local businesses is beyond important during times like these. We all have employees and families that depend on local economy,” Thompson says. “Whatever the community can do, it is beyond appreciated.”

The Falls Church Chamber of Commerce has offered several ways for residents to support restaurants during the crisis. Executive Director Sally Cole suggests ordering take-out or delivery, purchasing gift cards and if people do frequent a restaurant, use credit cards or electronic payments to prevent the potential spread of the virus. She also encourages people to like and share restaurants’ messages on social media.

Though, while many are recommending the gift card route to help during the crisis, Café Kindred’s Jen Demetrio says it can cause difficulty down the line.

“While [gift card sales] can alleviate the immediate cash flow issue, it can have lasting effects if many people then try to redeem at similar times,” she told the News-Press.

Demetrio, who’s seen her coffee shop’s business decline by more than 50 percent over the past two weeks, says people can help restaurants by visiting frequently while there are no quarantines or lock-downs in effect. “Continuing to eat out helps the restaurants stay afloat, and helps to keep a healthy local economy, ” she told the News-Press. In an Instagram post Tuesday morning, the cafe asked customers to call in orders ahead of time so they can minimize the amount of people sitting in the shop.

Falls Church Distillers owner Michael Paluzzi says he saw a 60 percent decrease in business on Saturday which only worsened the next day. In response, the distillery is closed this week through at least Sunday. “We are watching it closely week to week and [I] am ever mindful of our employees and patrons health,” Paluzzi told the News-Press.

Asked about how the public can help local restaurants and bars in the meantime, Paluzzi says “When this is over, come on out!”

Eden Center has seen mixed consequences as a result of the outbreak, according to Graham Eddy, vice president of the Vietnamese shopping center’s property management company.

“Our two well-stocked supermarkets are doing extremely well,” he wrote the News-Press in an email. “Eden Supermarket has plenty of Vietnamese specialties and Good Fortune continues to stock fresh fish and produce.” He continued, “On the other hand, we expect our other family-owned shops to have a slow period.”

Eddy says the best way to support the center’s restaurants is by ordering take-out and delivery food. In a letter to tenants, Eden Center management said it is working on a special arrangement with DoorDash to help its shops deliver directly to customers.

Jeff Bulman, owner and operator of The Original Pancake House on Lee Highway, will have his two Maryland locations shuttered indefinitely starting at 5 p.m. tonight due to the state’s mandate. As for his Falls Church restaurant, Bulman says he will keep it open as long as Virginia allows.

“If people are comfortable, I would hope they would come out for a meal,” he told the News-Press in an email. He says his Falls Church dine-in business has seen a dramatic decline over the past week and has only received a slight increase in take-out orders.

Other local establishments that told the News-Press they plan to stay open in the immediate future include La Cote d’Or Cafe, Koi Koi, Pistone’s Italian Inn and DC Steakholders. All said they have increased cleaning and sanitization efforts in their restaurants in response to the virus.

Vintage Restaurant Group’s Chris Leftbom says that while Dogwood Tavern will be open for St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow, it will be with minimal staffing and they won’t be celebrating the holiday. (UPDATE: Vintage Restaurant Group announced it will temporarily close all its restaurants, including Dogwood Tavern, starting on Wednesday.)

Lilly Kaur of DC Steakholders said her restaurant, which had planned to celebrate is one-year anniversary next month, has seen a decrease of 60-70 percent of business in the last week. “We hope things will get better soon,” she told the News-Press. “Or we might have to close for good.”