Local restaurants, bars drastically alter business models to stay afloat amid coronavirus

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Typically booming restaurants, bars and breweries in the Cape Fear are having to drastically alter their business models in order to stay afloat after the coronavirus pandemic caused Governor Roy Cooper to order dine-in services to be suspended.

“This, for our restaurants, is the apocalypse,” said Beer Barrio and Skytown Beer Company Owner Hayley Jensen. “It’s been a little scary, because business has just fallen off a cliff. So I’m not sure how long we’ll sustain that.”

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Friday would have marked the start of Cape Fear Craft Beer Week, but now Jensen says she’s had to furlough nearly all of her employees.

“We had to make some really tough phone calls, speak with people who have been with us for five years,” she said.

Jensen says with about one carryout order per hour, and the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, she’s considering selling off her stock and closing completely.

“I am absolutely afraid to order more food, spend thousands of dollars on new supplies to then sell and then be told that I’m not able to,” Jensen said.

Over by the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge, Waterline Brewery is experiencing similar hardships.

“It’s kind of like this invisible hurricane,” Waterline Brewery Company Owner Rob Robinson said.

Robinson says his brewery has taken a hit in more ways than one.

“We’re unable to do on-site consumption of beer, and all the restaurants and bars that were also our customers have been moved to the same restrictions and so we’ve lost both sides of our business,” he said.

He says the closures had a ripple effect on the entire local economy.

“The musicians lost gigs, the food trucks lost gigs,” Robinson said.

Waterline, along with other local breweries, donate their spent grain to local farmers for animal feed. That will also come to an end.

“Since we’re not on this continuous cycle, they’re also going to take a little bit of a hit because they can’t get this really good food product for their animals,” Robinson said.

Beer Barrio, Skytown and Waterline are offering food and beer to go.

This weekend at Waterline, there will be a food truck offering $5 BBQ plates for service industry workers.

At Bourbon St. in downtown Wilmington, the general manager says, they too, had to change things up. The restaurant is offering takeout as well as delivery through Uber Eats, Grubhub and Postmates.

General Manager Matt McBride says they’ve been doing a lot of business this week despite the changes.

“We were trying to get a gauge of what this to-go business was going to look like, trying to run numbers, and we’ve sold double the food today that we did yesterday,” McBride said. “I think it’s only going to increase, especially next week. People start getting a little stir crazy. They’re sick of cooking Ramen noodles and spaghetti every night at their house, so they’re going to call out and look to see where they can get some to-go food.”

He says he’s also seen a lot of people come together in the downtown area and support one another.