As seasons change, Middlebury restaurants and cafes adjust operations

By Florence Wu

As the recent dips in temperature foreshadow the upcoming winter, restaurants and cafes in Middlebury have been forced to make plans for the colder weather and flu season. While larger restaurants prepare for both indoor dining and takeaway, smaller venues are adopting a pick-up only mode.

Some Middlebury restaurants, like Mad Taco, are responding to the pandemic by forgoing seating entirely and sticking to takeout only. (Van Barth)

Summer and Fall Months

Currently, local restaurants Fire and Ice and The Arcadian offer both indoor and outdoor seating. These restaurants’ operations have been relatively successful over the summer, according to their respective owners.

“We are lucky to have had a really dry summer, so outside seating worked really well for us,” Matt Corrente, co-owner of The Arcadian, said.

Paris Rinder-Goddard, the owner and operator of Fire and Ice, said that his business has also had a generally positive experience with takeout and outdoor seating this summer. However, he also noted Covid-19-related economic struggles.

“While I would call our response successful, it still translates to sales being down 40% to 55%, which no business is built to deal with,” he said.

Currently, Vermont allows indoor seating at 50% capacity for dining venues.

Smaller restaurants and cafes have therefore been running takeout only. These venues include The Mad Taco, Royal Oak and Lost Monarch at the Stone Mill Market.

“Most of our staff rely on gratuity to pay bills, childcare, secondary education, etc.,” Nathan Davis, the General Manager of The Mad Taco, said. “For the most part, our guests have met and exceeded expectations. Our numbers are back to pre-Covid levels.”

This development comes after Davis told The Campus in March that The Mad Taco was going through a mass layoff and offering unemployment to all staff.

Matt Delia-Lobo, co-owner of Royal Oak Coffee and Lost Monarch, also had a positive experience and is very thankful for the support that the Middlebury community has shown. He and his wife are currently expecting a baby, so he is exercising extra caution to ensure that the operation of both cafes is as safe as possible.

Winter Plans

Business owners vary in their expectations and plans for the winter.

While Fire and Ice and The Arcadian are preparing for indoor dining and takeout, The Mad Taco, Royal Oak and Lost Monarch will continue to offer takeout only.

It is unlikely that any of the venues will deliver. Royal Oak will instead run online order options via a mobile app and their website, and The Mad Taco will allow customers to come inside to pick up orders once it starts snowing.

Notte pizzeria and bar announced on Monday that they will begin delivering their full menu to the college Monday through Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. for pick up at the Shannon Street parking lot.

Restaurant and cafe owners also have different concerns for the winter.

Fire and Ice operator Rinder-Goddard is mostly worried about maintaining staffing and trying to plan for potential lockdowns. Nevertheless, he is confident that the venue has the capacity to host indoor dining safety.

On the other hand, Corrente is concerned that the flu season can decrease people’s confidence in dining out, negatively impacting the restaurant’s business. “The Arcadian will continue to measure the customers’ comfort level with sitting inside, which has increased slowly but surely over the last couple of months,” he said.

Davis is especially concerned about whether people will follow Covid-19 guidelines and take the pandemic seriously.

“Somehow, we have arrived at a place in the USA where people would rather watch a YouTube video of pseudoscience or conspiracy theories instead of listening to health experts,” he said. “Luckily, it seems the majority of Vermonters haven’t gone down those rabbit holes.”

Delia-Lobo, on the other hand, is not worried at all. “The winter should be a lot more locals. Since we made it through the summer pretty safely with all the tourists, now that we are back to locals only, I am feeling extra safe,” he said. “We’ve made it through the worst.”