WATERVILLE — Restaurants in the city were feeling the sting of the coronavirus pandemic Monday, a day after a city task force announced all restaurants and bars must close immediately.

The warning from the city’s COVID-19 Task Force was sudden and with no notice, prompting some restaurant owners to scramble to notify staff, consider what to do with food purchased and try to help employees stay afloat. The announcement said further guidance would be issued within 48 hours.

“I just met with my staff,” Silver Street Tavern owner Charlie Giguere said early Tuesday afternoon. “We are not open. I just think this happened so poorly. They made a decision in a vacuum. We’re the only city in the state of Maine that we know of that has implemented ‘just close.’ Even Portland closed restaurants for St. Patrick’s Day but is allowing them to be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow and for the forseeable future.”

Giguere said he is keeping two employees, Joe Plumstead, a chef and kitchen manager, and Jayda Sharp, front house manager, on salary to help with projects, and he is encouraging the rest of his staff of about 30 to apply for unemployment benefits. The restaurant is guiding them on how to do that and how to apply for deferred bank loans, if needed.

Giguere took issue with the fact that restaurants were not contacted about the closure notification.

“Some restaurants read it in the paper this morning,” he said. “It’s just a poor job of communication.”

On Monday, before the closure, Giguere said he was trying to figure out how he can support the employees that depend on the restaurant.

“That’s the major issue,” he said. “I value my staff and I don’t want to lose their loyalty during this interruption in business.”

Silver Street Tavern line cook Tehya Rancourt works in the kitchen before the tavern opened for lunch patrons Monday in Waterville. Silver Street Tavern owner Charlie Giguere took issue with the city’s poor communication regarding the closure announcement Monday. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Kevin Joseph, co-owner of Joseph’s Fireside Steakhouse on West River Road, had on Monday considered doing a delivery service, but with the city’s mandate to close, he was not sure by Tuesday if that would be viable. Like Giguere, Joseph said he is concerned about his employees in the wake of the closure requirement.

“The way it all went down wasn’t right,” Joseph said. “It seems to me the City Council was not involved in the decision.”

Several members of the task force met Monday for two hours and the decision was made to close restaurants and bars.

Joseph had said on Monday that some of his staff are single parents and the restaurant pay is a much-needed source of second income.

“We’re trying to accommodate them as much as we can without jeopardizing their health,” he said.

As to what happens next, Joseph said Tuesday that he is uncertain.

“It’s going to be a day-by-day thing,” he said.

Jorgensen’s Cafe owner Theresa Dunn prepares food Monday after fielding a telephone order in Waterville. Dunn said that since the onset of coronavirus, orders for carry out has increased. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson Buy this Photo

Bobby McGee, who owns Selah Tea downtown with his wife, Rachel, said Selah saw an 80% drop in customers and revenues for Monday and Tuesday, and on Tuesday, the eatery was doing only carryout orders. He said customers can call to place orders or order them in the restaurant, but there is no dining in the eatery itself.

“We’ll probably shrink our hours a little bit and we’ll probably shrink the menu,” McGee said. “We’re doing everything we can to stay in business.”

He said a lot of customers are grateful Selah Tea is open for carryout.

“We might try meals-to-go for families  — chicken with rice and a vegetable,” he said.

McGee said the challenge is that some people do not want to come to work because of the pandemic.

“I have two people willing to come to work,” he said.

On Monday, Selah was being proactive in stepping up safety precautions in several ways, including by increasing cleaning and sanitizing efforts. McGee said Tuesday that he planned to stay open until 5 p.m. Tuesday and open again on Wednesday and see how things go.

“We’re taking it day by day,” he said.

McGee said Selah has loyal patrons who have come in and purchased gift cards so as to give the business income now, and the customers said they will come back later to eat.

“We have a great following, so we want to be there for them, but safely,” McGee said.

Niko Kosmidis, whose family owns Waterville House of Pizza downtown, said Monday that he expects his business will continue to do pickup and delivery, which is the bulk of the business anyway. He said he thinks the current situation will not affect the pizza shop as much as other eateries.

“For the most part, we’re doing OK,” he said. “It’s kind of step-by-step, day-by-day still.”

At the Last Unicorn on Silver Street, co-owner Jesse Philbrick said Tuesday that the restaurant is open for curbside pickup from 11 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. People may go to the eatery’s website to see the menu, according to Philbrick.

“I’ve got a young lady right here, working the phones and looking out the window, and people are pulling up to the side of the building and we run the food right out to them,” he said.

Philbrick also is an owner of Gouda Boys, a food concession business that works musical festivals around the country, and he said that it also is being affected by the pandemic. Philbrick said he hopes to be able to set up a food truck on The Concourse or at Head of Falls so people will have a food option.

“I think it’ll be good for everybody,” he said. “I’m trying to stay positive. I’d like not to lose a ton of money in this situation.”

On Monday, Hector Fuentes, owner of Cancun, a Mexican restaurant on Silver Street, said he was not sure if he would start doing takeout service and emphasized that he wants to do what is safe for everyone.

David Gulak, co-owner of Meridian’s Kitchen and Bar in Fairfield, said Monday that he was frustrated with the “lack of guidance and answers from our government.” He said that he and co-owner Josh Sullivan made the decision to close on Friday, remaining open just one more day before closing for a week.

Gulak said the restaurant closed because it was an “indisputable fact” that to not gather in groups prevents the spread of the disease.

“It’s going to hurt and we’re not excited about it,” he said. “If we can play our part … we saw it as our responsibility.”

He  said the restaurant is keeping its full-time salaried workers on the payroll and still discussing what to do for hourly workers. He said the business may offer takeout, which could be a vital revenue stream if the restaurant is forced to close for sit-down service.

Kennebec Journal staff writer Sam Shepherd contributed reporting. 

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