The last time I went out for dinner was a Friday in early March. My husband and I met friends for drinks and nachos at Beer Run, then headed to the Downtown Mall for dinner. We probably shouldn’t have: Schools had just been closed (for “two weeks”), we were all washing our hands maniacally and not giving hugs. But it was a warm, beautiful spring night, and it felt like maybe the last time in an long time we’d be able to feel some semblance of normal.
Restaurants were packed that evening, but over the next few days they all began to close, one after another. More than a month later, Charlottesville’s food scene is still in limbo, as local spots try to survive through a springtime with no graduation, no lunch crowds on the Downtown Mall, no Fridays after Five, no weekends of live music and picnics at the wineries, no weddings.
Some places tried takeout and delivery for awhile, then closed. Others shut down immediately, but have recently reopened with revamped menus and ordering systems and curbside pickup. None of it has been easy. “We are working more now than before we closed, and we were open seven days a week,” says Angelo Vangelopoulos of the Ivy Inn. Vangelopoulos has enlisted family members to help turn the sit-down, upscale American spot into a takeout joint open four evenings a week.
For eateries that had already done some takeout, like Mel’s Café on West Main, adapting is a little easier, but business has still taken a hit. “It’s not the same money right now,” owner Mel Walker told us. “But we’re hanging in there.”
As businesses continue to try to access federal support, the City of Charlottesville has offered some financial assistance of its own, though many restaurants were unable to qualify for its recent BRACE grants. More help is coming, says Jason Ness of the city’s Office of Economic Development. Let’s hope it’s enough.