Neighborhood Restaurants Struggling as Commonwealth Starts Reopenings

Bin 26 Enoteca began offering indoor dining again when the second step of Phase 2 of Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan to reopen the Commonwealth went into effect on Monday, June 22, but that doesn’t mean business is again booming. “There are glimpses of hope; I can’t say it’s anything close to light at the end of tunnel, but some nights you get hopeful,” said Babak Bina, who along with his sister, Azita Bina-Seibel,  owns and operate the Charles Street restaurant, as well as  jm Curley in Downtown Crossing.

The Paramount is now offering outdoor dining on Charles Street.

“At the moment, though, more nights are disappointing.” While there isn’t a strict cap on occupancy for the state’s restaurants, tables, both inside and out, must be set at least six feet apart from each other, which in the case of Bin 26 means that its regular 66-person, indoor capacity has been reduced to 30 while jm Curley’s capacity has been reduced to 50 from its usual 100 people. Bina said his restaurants already had a “rigorous” sanitation protocol in place before the pandemic struck, but one difference now is that employees have their temperatures taken using a touch-less thermometer several times per shift and customers are also asked to have their temperatures taken upon arrival.

“We meet and exceed the requirements set forth by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Boston,” he added. Bin 26 has always offered takeout (and now also offers delivery), but unlike other restaurants, Bina said it’s still doing the same  level of takeout business now as it did before the pandemic struck, which he described as “barely a blip on the screen.” “I don’t think people perceive  Bin 26 has a place to get takeout, so it’s not going to pay the bills,” he said. “We’re now hoping the dine-in [option] will get us back on track to what the new normalcy will be.” Bina said Bin 26 received an application from the city that would allow it to convert two parking spaces outside the restaurant into outdoor dining space, but Bina said this wouldn’t necessarily solve his problems.

“We have been contemplating outdoor seating, and are still evaluating the cost versus benefit,” he said. “We really have at best 60 more days with New England’s temperamental weather, and we would have  to buy normal outdoor furniture; therefore, it may not be beneficial for us.” Bina said jm curley is now offering outdoor dining for up to eight people after he brought tables and chairs from inside and purchased bolts, planters, soil and other supplies from Home Depot. He did the work himself, and in all, it cost around $1,500.

While this isn’t an option for Bin 26, since its handmade, walnut tables cost around $1,000 each, so he would have to buy outdoor furniture, Bina said he would still consider offering outdoor dining on Charles Street. But this now hinges on the success of The Paramount and Figs, both of which began offering outdoor dining last week. “Beacon Hill is  different than Downtown Crossing as far as what it would take to open outdoor seating,” he said. “We’re concerned with people not wanting to be in the middle of street, which is essentially where they are… next to cars flowing by. If we had gotten  one traffic lane shut down, it would be a different story.

  We would have likely gone for that because it would be more conducive and welcoming.” Also, Bin 26 would have to take on additional employees to implement outdoor dining. “We would have to bring on additional staff for the potential of more business and if that doesn’t happen, we still have the additional cost of [paying them],” he said. “It’s the expense up front, which we can’t pay at the moment.” Bina added that he is also hesitant to bring outdoor dining to Charles Street because many of the neighborhood’s residents leave town during the summer while the tourist industry that Bin 26 typically thrives during this time of year is now nearly non-existent. “We continue to be so appreciative of our neighbors who are around and are patronizing us – some nights are keeping us busy enough to feel like there’s still hope,” Bina said. “The only way we’ll  survive is for people to trust that we’ll take care of them and keep them safe.”

At The Paramount, which converted two parking spaces into outdoor dining space to accommodate four tables last week, dinnertime has been bustling. “It’s funny because for breakfast and lunch, everyone wants to sit inside, but no one wants to sit inside at dinnertime,” said Diego Osorno, the restaurant’s manager. “Even before we had the patio, no one was sitting inside for dinner.” Osorno estimates The Paramount has spent $500 to create outdoor seating to date, but that figure is deceivingly low since the restaurant was able to borrow some furniture instead of buying it, which otherwise would have cost upwards of $2,000.

But even with this additional boost in business, Orsono said The Paramount is still struggling so he encourages customers to order pick-up directly by calling 617-720-1152 to save themselves and the restaurant the cost of paying third-party delivery fees. “It would be nice to get the extra money to make sure the restaurant stays open,” he said.

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