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Guest Column: Thoughts about pandemic's impact on local restaurants and suppliers

  • Written by Anna Maria de Freitas

As I listen to the rain bounce off my sky light and feel the fall chill settle in the air, I know that the days of outdoor dining for me and my restaurant industry colleagues are quickly coming to an end. What will the dining scene look like in the San Juan Islands this spring if restaurants are not able to increase indoor dining capacity this fall and winter? The grim reality is that many will not make it through winter.  

I own Coho Restaurant, a farm to fork restaurant in the heart of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. For 13 years prior to Covid-19, we had nine tables in our intimate dining room. We now have only five physically distanced tables indoors, limited to serve a maximum of five guests per table from the same household. The four outdoor tables added during summer will soon be a thing of the past.

All these limiting factors have a significant impact not only on our restaurant business but the many suppliers we and other island restaurants support. This year we hired fewer team members and purchased less product from local farmers, cheesemakers, winemakers, and distillers.

I worked tirelessly during quarantine despite being closed for 90 days. And, as with many small businesses, the stress of uncertainty has taken its toll but we’ve lived up to the challenge. Coho restaurant instituted new procedures and protocols for the safety of our team and patrons. During the height of summer we opened our doors to our local community and visitors and have operated safely. I am proud of our hospitality industry for their hard work and diligence, and grateful to our community for keeping the virus at bay.

In order to open up more indoor dining capacity, everyone needs to continue their vigilance of wearing masks, physically distancing and washing their hands. We know these measures help stop the spread of COVID. I am not asking this on behalf of my restaurant, but on behalf of our local community and our interrelated small business web. Restaurants put 96 cents of every dollar back into the local economy. That goes to wages, farmers, and suppliers. The health and welfare and the fabric of our local economy is closely tied to the health of our restaurants.

Those of us in the hospitality industry choose this lifestyle. We work to serve and get pleasure out of what we do. Please support me, my team and colleagues in doing what we love, while keeping our community safe.

Anna Maria de Freitas