Happenings on Charles Street: Charles Street Restaurants Brace for Outdoor Dining Amid the Elements

When Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced on Sept. 16 that the city would extend the outdoor dining season past the original Halloween end-date in response to the ongoing pandemic, it came as welcome news to Charles Street restaurants struggling to stay in business, but now, those same restaurants are bracing for the inevitable onset of colder temperatures, as well as other realities of winter in New England.

Bin 26 Enoteca’s outdoor dining area.

Bin 26 Enoteca is doing its part by embracing the change in the weather with the launch of a new campaign called “Bin 26 Has Got You Covered,” where patrons can purchase (at cost) small blankets made from a synthetic blend and adorned with the restaurant’s logo for $8 a piece, along with fuzzy, wool hats for $25 each, with 100 percent of proceeds from the sale of the hats going to BINA Farm Center – a nonprofit that offers a variety of therapeutic and recreational equine programs to people with and without special needs.

“The idea is to cover your head and your body with a blanket and enjoy dining outdoors,” said Babak Bina, who, with his sister, Azita Bina-Seibel, owns and operates the longstanding restaurant at 26 Charles St.

Besides providing space heaters outdoors, Bin 26 also took the additional step last weekend of wrapping the exterior of the upper portion of the patio in clear plastic to offer al fresco diners resistance from the wind.

And inside, Bin 26 recently began using a machine that produces  “food-friendly” disinfectant fumes to sanitize the interior of the restaurant after each service in the morning, in the afternoon and at night.

“Obviously, we’re still wiping everything throughout the service area,” Bina said, “but this is an extra measure we’re taking to assure that everything else is getting sanitized as well.”

Bin 26 is also now considering purchasing air purifiers for the interior of the restaurant, but since each one costs around $300 and can only cover about 600 square feet, this could be more than the restaurant can afford to spend at the moment.

“The weather has been great, and we want to stretch that out for as long as we can,” Bina said, “and we’re doing everything we can to keep the interior of the restaurant sanitary and healthy for patrons.”

In early July, the Paramount became the first restaurant on Charles Street to offer outdoor dining when the city allowed them to convert two parking spaces into space for four tables, and Diego Osorno, the manager and chef of the restaurant at 44 Charles St., credits this gift from the city for helping the business stay afloat during these uncertain times. But even so, The Paramount is now bringing in only around $6,000 in receipts on a normal Saturday or Sunday, down from $10,000 pre-pandemic.

The Paramount’s inside occupancy was also cut in half due to safety measure enacted by Gov. Charlie Baker – going from space for 48 diners to only 24 – but the 20 diners can now be accommodated outside has helped the restaurant recoup some of its losses.

On the flipside, it has also become commonplace for some would-be patrons to abandon the idea of dining at The Paramount if outdoor seating isn’t available – in fact, just last week, a party of 15 left when they were told they couldn’t eat outside, costing the restaurant around $500 in receipts, Osorno estimates.

The Paramount also recently tried to make the outdoor dining experience more comfortable for its patrons by purchasing two inexpensive electric heaters, Osorno said, but after a fuse blew in one last week, the restaurant is now faced with the decision of buying five propane heaters at the cost of around $280 a piece – and that doesn’t even include the cost of propane.

Anthony Ackil, CEO and founder of Streetlight Ventures, a small business-service company that now owns and operates The Upper Crust’s original 20 Charles St. location (as well as its five other outposts), is also thankful for the agreeable weather, as well as for Mayor Walsh’s decision to extend the outdoor dining season in the city.

But he also knows all too well that Mother Nature is one reality that can’t be bargained with or sidestepped.

“We want to stay open for outdoor dining for as long as we can,” he said. “We’ve bought heaters, and we’re doing everything we can to make it comfortable outside, but there comes a point where it won’t work anymore.”

And like restaurants everywhere, The Upper Crust must also anticipate living with the coronavirus for the foreseeable future.

“We’re doing everything we can to accommodate outdoor dining as late in the winter and early in the spring,” Ackil added, “because we don’t see anything changing over the next six months.”

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