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Restaurant Owners Look Past Pandemic

Restaurant Owners Look Past Pandemic

Source: Kevin Maloney, New Haven Independent

It’s a common refrain – Connecticut is overshadowed by the Boston and New York metro areas. But is our restaurant scene overlooked?

For Scott Dolch, executive director of the Connecticut Restaurant Association, the obvious answer is yes. He joined the WNHH FM’s “Municipal Voice” program, hosted and produced by the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, to talk about the state of our restaurants and rebuilding after the Covid-19 pandemic..

“We have some of the best chefs and restaurants in the world, not only in the country,” Dolch said, saying that a big challenge is to overcome the shadow cast by our larger neighbors.

It’s not hard to convince Connecticut residents, in fact we celebrate our local restaurant heritage – and not just our famous pizza locations.

Dolch says that our state has a large proportion of locally owned, independent restaurants compared to states like Florida or Georgia where upwards of 70% of food businesses are corporations.

He credits a great diversity of restaurants that make the foodie scene in Connecticut so exciting. Naming New Haven in particular, he says that that you can practically get any cuisine that you’d like.

While the consumers often benefit from our state’s smorgasbord, the majority of our restaurants being independent has been a burden throughout Covid.

As much reporting has said and borne out, restaurants were hit particularly hard, incurring debt, laying off workers, and in the worst cases, closing down for good.

While some state and federal relief programs made a difference, the Connecticut Restaurant Association along with the rest of the world is wondering how to get people back out again after nearly two years of being shut in.

For some restaurants, that means wondering when people are going to be back in their offices. Connecticut has been a leader in vaccinations and has been able to flatten the curve throughout the Delta spike, largely because people took so well to social distancing and work from home.

And when people work from home, they don’t eat out for lunch.

This is exacerbated by the lack of work-related travel. Dolch cites figures that say that 60 percent of hotel stays in Connecticut are business related travel.

But Dolch remains optimistic about our restaurants as Delta wanes and more get vaccinated. Restaurants, for him, hold a special place in our culture that just cannot be imitated at home.

“But you know, there’s nothing better than getting back out with like your buddies, going out to dinner with your spouse or going out with your kids,” Dolch said, “Restaurants are where you know you can sit and engage, whether it’s business related or leisure related. Like to have that and to do that again and kind of feel normal.”

To watch this episode of The Municipal Voice, click here.