Lisa Wardwell, owner of Lisa’s Restaurant and Lounge in Augusta, discusses the impact coronavirus is having on her business as she was closed on Christmas for the first time in a dozen years. A positive COVID-19 case on the staff meant closing her dining room and only offering takeout the past week. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — On most Christmases, Lisa’s Restaurant and Lounge is “cranking busy.”

Not this year.

After a COVID-19 scare forced a move to takeout-only service for the past week, opening for Christmas just wasn’t worth it. The break from tradition was hard on the restaurant’s owner and staff.

“It’s the first time we’ve been closed on Christmas in 12 years. I wanted to cry,” owner Lisa Wardwell said.

It wasn’t only local volunteer Christmas dinners that were changed or canceled due to the pandemic.

Throughout the past 10 months, restaurants across the world have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic in myriad ways. Some closed entirely, others opened for different dining options than prior Christmases. The pandemic has already forced restaurants to change their processes for the sake of health and safety, so the pandemic Christmas was no different. Local restaurants reported a mix of results.

Cheung Lee Express, a Chinese restaurant in Fairfield, was open for dine-in, takeout and delivery. Employee Tabby Soucy said takeout and delivery were busy. 

“We usually do really good on Christmas, we were really busy all day long,” Soucy said. “I think we might’ve been busier this year than we were last year.” 

Mei Lee Garden Restaurant, a Skowhegan Chinese food establishment, closed its dining room and doesn’t offer delivery. It does, however, offer curbside takeout. Usually big parties come in on Christmas Day, manager Shannon Grignon said, but that wasn’t allowed due to health and safety protocols. 

“It was still pretty steady for takeout, but I don’t think it was like any other Christmas in the past,” Grignon said. “For Christmas it was slower, but for Christmas Eve it was busier. It wasn’t like any other year.” 

At Pagoda Express at the Concourse in downtown Waterville, a lot of patrons dine-in. This year, the dining room is closed completely. The wind and rain storm, although not as ferocious as initially anticipated, didn’t help. 

“Kind of slow, and we lost power for half an hour,” Pagoda Express Owner Yao Lin said. “I was in the middle of talking with a customer.” 

A sign on the door of Lisa’s Restaurant and Lounge in Augusta. Restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic appear to have negatively impacted several area restaurants that normally enjoy a healthy Christmas Day business. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

At Lisa’s Restaurant and Lounge in Augusta, Lisa Wardwell said a kitchen worker tested positive for the virus, so the restaurant closed, tested all other employees, and did takeout only for the past week. 

“We just didn’t dare to risk it,” Wardwell said. “We actually got a call from (Maine Department of Health and Human Services) saying we didn’t have to close , but I wasn’t risking my employees and wasn’t risking the public. 

Lisa’s opened for takeout only Saturday and will reopen Sunday for dine-in service following COVID-19 quarantine periods. 

O’Brien’s Irish Restaurant & Pub in Waterville normally serves a Christmas buffet for between 200-300 people, but had to operate differently this year due to the pandemic. O’Brien’s opened for a few hours at breakfast and for dinner time, mostly for hotel guests, but also for the public. There were about 60 meals served at breakfast, 20 at dinner. There were slightly less hotel guests this Christmas compared to year’s past.   

“We really didn’t know what to expect, so we were happy with anybody that we could serve,” said Darlene Ratte, assistant general manager of the Best Western in Waterville who helps oversee O’Brien’s Irish Restaurant & Pub. “We really wanted to make sure that the people in the hotel could have a meal if they were traveling.” 

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