For months, the coronavirus forced us to become our own personal chefs. For many of us, the idea of going out to a restaurant and having your order taken instead of making it yourself turned into a distant dream. But now that the hotter months are upon us, local eateries are expanding into outdoor dining options – many for the first time – that make it safe to enjoy eating out at some of your favorite spots in Concord.
Some restaurants have gotten especially creative in providing these outdoor dining experiences for their guests. We talked to Revival Kitchen & Bar, White Mountain Gourmet Coffee, Washington Street Cafe and the Common Man about how they adapted.
Revival may not have seemed like a great spot for outdoor dining a few weeks ago. It is located on Depot Street, where the steep hill makes the sidewalk not so ideal for setting up tables and chairs. In order to support his staff and continue to provide a great dining experience to his customers, Revival chef and owner Corey Fletcher had to think outside the box. He came up with a plan to construct a platform which would level out the space in front of the restaurant, and after a couple of days of construction, his plan became a reality.
Now, the 15-by-30-foot semi-permanent deck supports seven tables, or about 25 guests. On nights when the weather is nice, Fletcher said, the space becomes an “outdoor oasis” for guests to enjoy the summer air while they eat.
“A lot of customers are surprised with how nice it is out there,” he said. “It was definitely an investment. I didn’t want to just throw something together, I wanted to do it right.”
Revival’s menu – which changes according to the season’s freshest ingredients – has just as much variety as usual, Fletcher said. Guests can choose to sit on the outdoor deck or inside the restaurant, which holds half as many guests as usual according to social distancing guidelines.
Fletcher said he has been pleasantly surprised with how well the outdoor deck area has worked out. He said business is still not close to where it was before COVID-19, but they are doing what they can to keep their employees employed and continue to give their business to local suppliers.
Remaining flexible and adapting quickly has been crucial for keeping the restaurant afloat during the pandemic. Sometimes it takes calling a party with reservations to move inside due to a thunderstorm, or staying open later than usual for guests who walk in near closing, but Fletcher said his staff has been there working hard through it all.
Once social distancing has been fully relaxed, Fletcher said that he would be interested in keeping the deck open for next summer if the city allows Revival to continue taking up parking spots on Depot Street. He’s hopeful that outdoor dining can help make Concord into “more of a destination” post-COVID.
Washington Street Cafe
Until recently, Washington Street Cafe was the place to go for a breakfast pastry or a gyro for lunch, and their catering services have been rated highly for years. But since the coronavirus pandemic took away many of their scheduled catering events, the cafe has changed its business model dramatically and created a whole new dinner menu to be enjoyed on their outdoor patio and at tables set up in the cafe’s parking lot.
The new dinner menu expands on the Mediterranean flavors of the cafe’s lunch offerings, with several kebabs, lasagnas and falafel platters to choose from. The cafe’s hours have changed, too – it is now open for lunch Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and for dinner Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m.
Rachel Robie, one of the head chefs and caterers at the Cafe, said that this new way of operating has certainly presented a “learning curve” to the company’s small staff. They have hired new employees to help keep things sanitary and running smoothly during the transition, and invested in a roof to go on the patio’s pergola to protect guests from the elements. The cafe also recently received its liquor license, allowing guests to enjoy a glass of wine or a cold beer on the patio with their dinner.
“We want to do whatever we can to stay relevant,” Robie said. “We’re now relying on the community to eat local and support small business.”
Robie said that it’s hard to tell how the new dinner plan will fare, but time will prove whether or not it is something the cafe will stick with in the future.
“In light of this, we’re doing everything we can to keep people safe, and keep our staff employed and provide our services to the community,” Robie said.
The Common Man
Without their usual droves of customers filling their parking lot this summer due to the pandemic, the Common Man restaurant saw an opportunity to set up a makeshift outdoor eatery. They started with six picnic tables in the parking lot, but as business picked up, the restaurant required more and more from the corporate maintenance team’s supply. Now, 12 socially-distanced tables make up the outdoor dining area at the Common Man, and business continues to gradually pick up.
According to Scott McCann, the restaurant’s general manager, customers appreciate the Common Man’s stricter approach to health and safety during the pandemic.
“A lot of people come here and actually feel safer because we took the time and distanced all the picnic tables outside,” he said. According to McCann, some visit the Common Man as their first outing since the lockdown because they are impressed with the number of precautions the restaurant has taken to keep them safe.
Besides the outdoor seating arrangements, McCann says the dining experience has not changed much at the Common Man. The menu is nearly the same as before, except for some dishes – like the prime rib – which have become too difficult to source since the pandemic.
McCann said he hopes this outdoor dining setup continues in future summers. Customers like it, the staff like it, and perhaps with some added decorative touches, it will become a mainstay of the Common Man’s summer dining experience.
White Mountain Gourmet Coffee
The economic lockdown caused by the coronavirus this spring presented dire challenges to nearly every business in America. But for White Mountain Gourmet Coffee, which was in the midst of renovating its shop on Pleasant Street when the pandemic hit, shutting down for a couple of months created an opportunity to give the cafe a facelift.
According to shop owner Richard Clark, White Mountain was already picking away at the renovations in small bits when the lockdown began, and being shut down allowed them to “push forward and take advantage of that down time.”
Now, the shop has reopened with outdoor seating for the first time, which serendipitously was part of the renovation plans from the start. A dog-friendly brick patio seats about 18 customers at wrought-iron furniture while newly-planted greenery provides shade in the space next to the cafe.
During the renovations the inside of the cafe became more conducive to social distancing, as well – they took down some walls and expanded the seating which lets the mandated half capacity of guests sit six feet apart inside, too.
The shop’s menu has not changed a bit due to the pandemic, but Clark noted that they recently installed a single-serve pour-over coffee maker that allows customers to choose from the shop’s 180 different blends of beans and receive a cup made just for them.