Area restaurants face uncertainty and challenges due to Covid restrictions and approaching cold weather
By Brooke Geery
Downtown Rutland restaurants, including Taso on Center (22 Center St.), took full advantage of the warm weather and additional outdoor seating possibilities this summer in order to stay afloat amid Covid restrictions. But now, as winter approaches, a new strategy is required.
“We are not in normal times,” Taso owner Jay Sabataso said. “We are adapting and thinking outside the box. The seating downtown has been awesome outside, we’ve had good weather and the Downtown Partnership has been great, but the weather shifts and the outdoor seating is done.”
In the early days of Covid, Taso was active in helping the community. They donated all their draft beer proceeds to the community cupboard and donated lots of meals to feed people at the hospital and nursing homes, as well as police and firefighters. Over the summer, they did everything possible to maintain a sense of normalcy.
“We tried to stay with local entertainment, even though we don’t have enough business to support it, we continue to have local artists just to make it feel more normal,” Sabataso said.
The live entertainment did help to bring in more young diners, and though the restaurant has been consistently busy, at 50% capacity it is hardly enough to make ends meet. Sabataso also noticed far more small parties — lots of two tops instead of big groups— and tables turning over only once, or not at all, versus two to three times per night as usual. The biggest decrease is in diners in the 60+ age range.
“I think the over 60 population is afraid to go out,” Sabataso said. “I think there’s less people around. I think everyone is working a lot harder to make a lot less.”
One of the biggest changes for Taso this winter is offering its food through delivery services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats. “It’s something I’ve never thought I’d want to partner with, but we are missing such a large part of the operation,” Sabataso said.
With more focus on food-to-go, Taso also plans to add complete family dinners-to-go. They’ve also converted the small restaurant events space to dining to accommodate seating. These changes have come with additional costs. To keep up, Taso hired four new employees, and made technology upgrades as well. This is in addition to increased prices on everything from food to cleaning supplies.
Sabataso has added a list of responsibilities to his own job description. He is cleaning the restaurant himself, spending extra time to ensure everything everything is cleaned according to CDC and state guidelines. And he’s already looking towards next spring, when Taso will add 40 seats with a covered deck out the back of the restaurant. But first, they will have to survive the winter.
“We are in it for the long haul, knowing it’s not gonna be easy,” he said. “We have partnered with a lot of different area groups and restaurants. Everyone is in the same boat, there’s no right or wrong way, we’re all trying to figure it out right now. It’s certainly challenging. Unfortunately I think we’ll lose more restaurants during the winter. It’s really difficult to do business right now. ”
The best way to help Taso or any of your favorite local restaurants is to go out and eat or order in. “I would like to thank everyone in the community for their continued support and to remember to shop local this year,” Sabataso concluded. “This is the year to support your neighbors.”