by Andrew Garda
As colder weather comes to Montclair, restaurant owners now have to contend with that as well as a 25-percent indoor capacity limit and the newly implemented 10 p.m. dining curfew.
On Monday, Nov. 9, Gov. Phil Murphy ordered restaurants, bars, clubs and banquet halls to stop indoor service at 10 p.m. Bar service will not be permitted at all. The order went into effect on Thursday, Nov. 12.
With the number of new COVID-19 cases climbing, Jason Gleason, executive director of the Montclair Center BID, said the township’s restaurants were prepared for the worst.
“It will definitely affect our fine dining and the bars,” Gleason said. “It’s definitely a setback as dining moves indoors.”
Adapting and innovating
October’s cold, wet weather gave restaurants in Montclair a taste of what will be coming once winter sets in, Gleason said.
“Listen, there’s no easy way about it, it’s going to be a really tricky winter,” he said.
Gleason said he has seen a lot of effort by businesses in town to keep their customers engaged.
“They’ve been very savvy at marketing to their bases and letting them know how they’re operating as a business, such as with takeout and curbside pickup. Obviously, there will be a lot of focus on that model, and then there’ll be contending with the 25-percent [cap] now,” he said.
He pointed to Faubourg as an example of “very much a fine-dining restaurant” pivoting to a full takeout model and altering its menu to deal with cost issues.
“Faubourg is obviously not the only restaurant doing that,” he said.
But through the winter months, Gleason said, owners are going to have to be really savvy.
Murphy’s concession of allowing tables to be closer than the previously mandated 6 feet apart as long as there are dividers between indoor tables won’t make much of an impact, he said.
“Twenty-five percent is still 25 percent,” he said.
Montclair Brewery has been offering virtual tastings consisting of flights of four assorted beers delivered to residents’ homes along with a scheduled live video session with the brewery, where patrons and staff discuss the beer styles, flavors and how they are made.
The virtual sessions are a way for the brewery to connect with its clientele.
“We will likely restart and expand our virtual events with special virtual tastings with groups like what we’ve done with the Ridgewood Library and Mocha Moms,” said Montclair Brewery owner Denise Ford-Sawadogo.
For the Montclair Brewery, the 10 p.m. shut-down time isn’t a big deal.
“It’s the cap for inside dining, not for outside,” said Ford-Sawadogo, as they can still remain open outdoors on Fridays and Saturdays until the brewery’s 11 p.m. closure.
To deal with cold weather, “we have outside heaters and fire pits,” she said.
Without service at the bar, bars could be hit hardest. Egan and Sons and Tierney’s will also be offering outdoor dining.
A welcome approach
Café Moso owner Zina Floyd said the South End eatery has actually seen sales improve over the past year. Floyd feels, however, that some of that is due to word of mouth as the restaurant, which opened last May, moves through its second year.
The restaurant serves up old-fashioned comfort food, while aiming to make clients feel at home.
“Every single person that walks through the door, you make an effort to make them feel [special],” Floyd said. “And it’s genuine. It’s not a marketing tool. We’re really happy to see our customers and happy that they’re coming back. We have regulars that are here on a daily basis, you know?”
The restaurant has an area on the sidewalk with several tables for customers to eat at. As the weather gets chillier, it will add sides to the tent and outdoor heaters.
It will also continue to offer a robust takeout service.
Both Allegory and ALTO at the MC Hotel have installed space heaters and offer guests blankets from Acqua Panna and S. Pellegrino that are regularly dry-cleaned and individually bagged to maximize guest comfort and safety. They are looking into adding bubbles as well.
The food created by chef Amber Lancaster is now focused on “clean, healthy cooking,” with produce from local farmers and the Montclair Farmers’ Market.
Location was the key this summer for Salute, at the corner of Glenridge Avenue and North Willow Street, allowing for cross-ventilation with open windows and French doors.
And neighbors were amenable to spreading tables out in front of their buildings.
Owner Gerry Cerrigone said he feels lucky, as he knows a lot of other places didn’t have the sidewalk space.
“I was able to adapt because I was lucky and where I was,” he said. “I was happy I could pay my employees and I can take care of them, so they could take care of their families and keep food on their table. But what about all the other restaurants that weren’t lucky just because of where they happened to sign their lease?”
Going into winter, Cerrigone bought 10 heaters to keep the sidewalk space usable and has ordered seven “igloos,” sturdy, bubble-like tents becoming common for outdoor dining in New Jersey.
“It’s going to be like a winter wonderland,” he said. “It will be heated, so you can sit outside [with] up to six guests per an igloo. If it’s snowing or it’s a little chilly out, you’ll be inside and you’ll be warm [while it’s] snowing around you.”
For indoors, Cerrigone has invested in as many plexiglass dividers as he could get.
“I do have the plexiglass table dividers, which will keep everybody COVID-free. Being able to move inside, that was a pretty big game-changer,” he said.
Cerrigone said the staff at the restaurant — some of whom have been with him all 13 years Salute has been open — have drawn closer, and they have made every effort to wrap their clientele into that feeling.
And for his customers, “it’s more than just the food these days, it’s more about feeling comfortable, seeing the familiar faces.”
—Jaimie Julia Winters contributed to this article.