By Marianne Weaver
By Friday, March 13, school and business closure rumors were swirling, but no one was prepared when Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order Monday, March 23, 2020, shutting down all non-essential services, limiting restaurants and bars to carry-out, curbside and delivery services only.
“Right around the beginning of March, we noticed a significant drop in the number of customers dining in at the restaurant,” said Kyle Donovan, manager of Blue Ridge Seafood, a 41-year-old, third-generation restaurant located at 15707 Lee Highway in Gainesville. “We met as a family to brainstorm ideas for moving forward. We still offer our current lunch/dinner menu and our seafood market carry-out items, but we have started to offer more family-style meals to offer more options for families.”
Specials are posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
As other restaurants in Prince William took a break to reassess, Kumar Iyer, owner of Rangoli Indian Restaurant at 10223 Nokesville Road in Manassas, tried to maintain his business. Before the pandemic, he said he was serving about 500 meals a week, with about 60% dine-in.
“We stayed open for dine-in even when most stores closed or started restricting the hours until the governor’s order to shut down seating,” he said. “When we were open for dine-in, last few days, we had a sanitizer dispenser at the entrance for all guests to wipe their hands. We allowed no more than 10 guests at a time in the dining room. We would wipe down the tables and chairs with Clorox wipes after each seating.”
Karen Weed, owner of Three Monkeys Pub & Chophouse, located at 9329 Main Street in Manassas, said she was in a unique position to adjust her business to adhere to new regulations.
“I have a neuro-immune condition,” she said. “I think all of my years of having to be extra careful came into play in realizing just how serious this situation was and that it warranted the extra precautions for everyone.”
Monza staff preparing to serve during the pandemic. “We wanted to do this safely,” he said. “We limited the menu to things we can control — things that can be put together with just two people in the kitchen and that reheat well at home.”
Something for Everyone
Prince William is a diverse region, and the vast array of restaurant specialties reflect the residents’ wide range of tastes. Although some restaurants have opted to take a break and wait for the all-clear, there are plenty of restaurants in this region ready to fulfill any cravings.
Weed said prior to the pandemic, Three Monkeys specialized in serving traditional American classics.
“We were a hot spot in town for food, drinks, concerts and so much more,” she said. “Now, we have limited our food menu to our most popular pub grub items. We switched to strictly to-go food early on — before it was mandated — because we saw the need to protect both our customers and our employees. We took a massive hit on sales, but in hindsight I’m relieved we made that tough decision when we did.”
The menu is posted on their website at threemonkeysmanassas.com.
Dixie Bones BBQ, 13440 Occoquan Road in Woodbridge, closed their dining room in mid-March but has continued serving customers takeout and delivery throughout the shutdown.
“We have not changed our menu except to showcase our frozen meats,” said Nelson Head, chairman. The most popular items, he said, are hickory smoked ribs, macaroni and cheese, collard greens and pecan pie. The menu and specials are posted on their Facebook page.
Uptown Alley, an entertainment and restaurant venue in the Manassas Mall, previously generated about 98% of food sales through dine-in sales.
“When the governor’s mandate came out for gatherings of 10 guests or less, we realized we needed to make a drastic change to our business model,” said Monica Harmison, director of sales and marketing. “We created a specific menu for curbside to-go for both food and beverages. We also offer a weekly heat-and-serve family meal on Sundays for curbside pick-up. And we have delivery partnerships with Uber Eats and DoorDash.” The menu and specials are posted on their Facebook page.
Iyer said he revamped Rangoli’s Indian menu, removing slow-moving items and dishes that need expensive or unique ingredients. In addition to curbside pick-up, they also schedule deliveries to nearby communities. Visit their Facebook page for menu and delivery schedule.
Arthur Lampros, co-owner of Giorgio’s Family Restaurant at 4394 Kevin Walker Drive in Montclair, said he closed the Mediterranean/American restaurant for a month to devise a plan for serving customers during the pandemic. During the break, he reached out to loyal customers and friends in the business to find out what was working … and what wasn’t.
“We wanted to do this safely,” he said. “We limited the menu to things we can control — things that can be put together with just two people in the kitchen and that reheat well at home.”
The family-style menu is available at giorgiosfamilyrestaurant.com. He said the weekly specials are always a hit. So far, they have offered lasagna, crab cakes and cannelloni Bolognese. Orders must be placed prior to arrival; no walk-up orders are accepted.
“In the end, it is about focusing on quality and making sure that if they can’t come inside and eat, what they take home is just as good, if not better,” said Lampros.
Alice Pires, owner of Carmello’s and Monza in Downtown Manassas, has been serving Portuguese- and Mediterranean-influenced food since 1987. Prior to the pandemic, the more casual Monza filled a few takeout orders, but Carmello’s was exclusively dine-in.
“Right away, after we were mandated to close, we immediately went to all takeout and delivery for Monza and closed Carmello’s,” said Pires. “We re-opened Carmello’s at Easter and now offer only Friday and Saturday takeout/delivery on a limited menu.”
Sean McNamara, owner of Preston’s Pub, 9103 Andrew Drive in Manassas Park, thought he was doing a brisk to-go business earlier in 2020, but little did he know how much he would step it up by mid-March.
“It was a roller-coaster ride for the first couple of weeks after the governor shut down restaurants. We scrambled every day to adhere to new rules and attempt to adjust our business model at the same time,” he said. “Finally, it became a little too much to handle. With so many things changing so quickly, we took 12
days and shut down Preston’s to take a breather and plan out what our new direction was going to be.”
When they re-opened April 13, they instituted new safety guidelines, issued proper protection and held training sessions. Then he turned his attention to the menu.
“We have a different family-style dinner each night and have put together other specials that run all week long,” he said, noting that the menu is posted on their Facebook page. “We also saw a need for the community to have a mini-market where our customers can put together and order food staples Monday
through Wednesday, then pick them up on Fridays.”
McNamara said he is thankful that although sales are only about 35% of what they were prior to the pandemic, he has been able to keep some employees working.
“I try not to think of how much money the business is losing during this time; instead I try to be optimistic and remember this too shall pass and when it does we will figure everything out,” he said. “That probably makes me a bad businessman, but our family pub is way more than just a business to us. It’s an oasis
where families, friends and colleagues come together over great food and cold drinks to tell our stories, laugh and take jabs at each other. It’s a place that makes us feel human, and we will do everything in our power to keep Preston’s alive and well.”
A Twist: Drinks … to Go
A week after restaurateurs adjusted to new delivery/pick-up requirements, the governor ordered the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority to allow restaurants to sell beer and wine to go. That was fantastic news for Trummer’s Coffee and Wine Bar, located at 14013 Promenade Commons Street in
“We used to serve over 1,000 people per week, which was mostly dine-in. My guess would be 8% was takeout?” said owner Victoria Trummer, noting that although they are offering a limited menu, they are serving all of their specialty cocktails.
“Our signature cocktails, including the Titanic, which has a frozen component, are all available for takeout. It has been a huge draw! We are also offering bottles of beer and wine.”
McNamara said his pub quickly found a way to accommodate orders for drinks to go. “We offer cocktails in pouches, like Capri Suns, and in quart containers,” he said. “Anyone can order whatever they would like, and we will make it. We also offer growler fills, bottled beers and bottles of wine.”
El Tio, at 7527 Linton Hall Road in Gainesville, has offered their full Tex-Mex menu since the shutdown, but customers wanted more.
“The margaritas are our hot item. People were asking for it since the day we changed to carry-out only,” said general manager Oscar Bonilla. Sangria, he said, is also a popular order.
Donovan said Blue Ridge has sold a lot of Blue Ridge Punch and Orange Crush.
“A lot of our guests are still surprised that this option is now available in Virginia,” he said. “We also sell a lot of wine bottles and six packs of beer.”
Pires agreed that customers are grateful for the ability to pick up drinks with their meals. “Sangria, wine and mojitos have been in demand,” she said.
Victoria Wu of Cakes by Happy Eatery, at 9685 Liberia Ave., Ste 107 in Manassas, said the pandemic couldn’t have hit at a worse time: Her second-generation bakery does a majority of its business from March through June.
“The bakery’s business is based on gatherings and celebrating key moments,” she said. “When restrictions and stay-at-home orders were initiated, business declined right away. Birthday parties could not be held. Wedding couples had their ceremonies and receptions postponed. Everyone was experiencing some unknown and trying to grasp the situation. The bakery was very quiet for a few days as the new normal was being defined.”
The bakery’s “new normal” resulted in shorter hours and smaller batches. In addition to desserts, the bakery also started offering items from their catering menu.
“As families were staying at home, they wanted different meal options, so the catering menu was amended to include some comfort foods, such as chicken pot pies, pot roast, beef and mushroom ravioli, plus our most requested Norwegian meatballs in a brown gravy sauce,” she said. “While parties are being
cancelled/postponed, birthday celebrations continue. Instead of large cakes, people are enjoying the smaller and custom designed cakes inspired by the original party theme.”
While the restaurant experience may not be available, in many cases the food still is. Take a look around, find just what you’re craving, and opt for pick-up or delivery.
Marianne E. Weaver ([email protected]) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University.