Erie Times-News

No restaurateur is likely to forget 2020soon. Emerging from winter to a bull market at the beginning of the year, it was all systems go.And at the beginning of March, restaurants and taverns in Erie were enjoying the ride, as people were eating out 5.9 times a week on average, according to Business Insider,http://bit.ly/3heCkFj.New eateries were opening, and an increasingly diverse and vibrant food scene in Erie was blossoming: Annapurna Kitchen, 1315Parade St., which opened in 2019, was finding its footing with Southeast Asian cuisine; Khao Thai found a new home at 2430 W. Eighth St.;1201 Kitchen, 1201 State St.,and Cloud 9 Wine Bar, 25 E. 10th St., were exploring delicious haute cuisine trends.

Madeline's Dining & Events,8844 Route 18, Cranesville, just a few months old last New Year's Eve, was makinga splash worthy of the old venerable Crowley's.Perpetual restaurant builders John Melody and Russel Stachewicz, already owners of three U Pick Six locations, were planning not one but two new restaurants: abrewery, John RussellBrewing Co.,7520 Peach St.,and what might someday be called Bay House, a seven-figure investment in an upscale bayfront seafood and cocktail place with a roof-top bar,a raw oyster bar, a verticallyadjustable grill, a three-storyunobstructed view of Presque Isle Bay and all kinds offun stuff.

Red Letter Hospitality, owner of The Cork 1794 in the West Erie Plaza, Molly Brannigan's (506 State St.) and Skunk & Goat Tavern (17 W. Main St, North East),signed on to manage the foodservice, a bar and local food vendors for Flagship City Food Hall, an8,000-square-foot space under construction along North Park Row in downtown Erie.Remodeling was humming along.

Then, in mid-March,it all came to a screeching halt.A good year turned into a nightmare. COVID-19, a disease caused by a highly contagious virus, swept the world, killing more than 1.7million people as of earlier this week,according to figuresfrom Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center,https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/.

Everyone except "essential" workers, such as healthcare workers, law enforcement, grocers andhardware store workers, was ordered to stay home. Schools, attractions, bars and dining rooms were closed except for takeout and delivery. That was all well and good for restaurants that already did a brisk takeout and delivery business, but places that relied on full diningrooms quickly headed down a slippery slope.

Nearly10 months later, no local restaurants have been able to open tofull capacity. For a brief period this fall, they were allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, but a sudden surge in coronavirus cases have them serving takeout only again, at least into the first week of January.

Most restaurant owners make their living on full dining rooms, and many are struggling while a few have closed for the holidays, in hopes of some relief from a federal stimulus package and/or loosening of restrictions in the new year, leaving hundreds of staff members with no income in December.

Other restaurateurs have decided they just couldn't make it at all, and the Erie area has lost some of its favorites: Nunzi's,2330 E. 38th St.,closed after 70 years;The Oasis Market, 914 State St.;M Cafe, 5410 West Lake Road;The Bourbon Barrel, 1213 State St.; Chovys Italian Casual, 18228 Conneaut Lake Road, Vernon Township, all closed.Sprague Farm & Brew Works, 22043 Routes 6 and 19, Venango, curtailedits business hours to every other Saturday from noon till 5 p.m. for beer takeout.

Pleasedo not ask me when Serafini's,2642 W. 12th St., will reopen. I don't know. General manager Paula Carrara has given me no indication, except to assure me that it will. If I had to guess, I'd say months. She wanted to be clear of state restrictions, and that seems a long way off. Meanwhile,I get several calls and notes a week from eager customers. Trust me. When I know, you'll know. But this issue sure gets the prize for most calls I've ever gotten about, well, anything.

It hasn't been all doom and gloom, however. Some hardy souls actually chose the pandemic as a good time to open new eateries. And amid the carnage, they seem to be making a go of it:

Chippers Seafood and Southern Fusion,1023 State St.

Oliver's, in the Hampton Inn at Harbor Place, 130 E. Front St.

Mr. Woodys Smokin BBQ, 259 Venango Ave., Cambridge Springs

Lakeside Beach Bar, 220 W. Plum St., Edinboro

Luminary Distilling, Eatery, Fuhrman's Cider,8270 Peach St., bought the Furman's Cider and Bakery businessand remodeled it to turn it into a full-service restaurant.

Donato's, (second location) 1535 W. Eighth St., became a big sister in mid-November when owner Christina Vogel opened a second location at 861 E. 38th St.

F&F Poke Bowl & Ramen, (second location) 6831 Peach St., Summit Township

Main Street Cakery Cafe, (second location)2900 Copperleaf Drive off of Edinboro Road in Summit Township

Shirleys, 5924 Old French Road (pre-pandemic, but still hanging tough)

Coppolas Pizzeria of Erie (second location, pre-pandemic)opened in the old Lucchettis location at 1042 W. 26th St.

Sticks & Bricks Wood Fired Pizza, 1301 E. Grandview Blvd.

Let me know if I left someone out and I'll gladly provide an addendum in my next column.

Also hopeful news: the first wave of vendors selected to open the downtown food hall in 2021includesTaste of Love seafood and soul fusion catering;Lucky Louies Beer & Wieners, (second location);The Shawarma Station, a Middle Eastern food truck that can often be found around Perry Square; Taste & See Fruit & Veggie Bar; andThe Straw Hat Sundae Shop, a North East business (second location) that will sell ice cream from Penn States Berkey Creamery.

We can only hope that Erie's restaurants can sell enough takeout, make enough deliveries, gather enough from gift cards and merchandise to get them through the next dark days. I hope to use this space to celebrate the renaissance of diverse and delicious menus available.

See you in 2021, with any luck sitting at the next table over.

If you have regional restaurant news or questions, please send an email tojgeisler@timesnews.com, or call her at 814-969-2208.

Read more from the original source:
Jennie Geisler: It wasn't a very good year for Erie's eateries, but bright spots shone - GoErie.com

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