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– Trophy Tap & Table in downtown Raleigh was among more than 100 restaurants to close in the Triangle last year as COVID-19 restrictions wreaked havoc on the industry.

But just like the industry, the former Trophy area on Wilmington Street sees new life.

The space, which previously housed Busy Bee Cafe, is being renovated and transformed into a restaurant and distillery. It will be operated by the same team as Busy Bee, Trophy Tap & Table, State of Beer and Trophy Brewing Company.

“What we wanted to do was open a new concept for the city center, which is a distillery,” said Chris Powers, co-owner of the Trophy. “I hope that at the beginning of July our friends and family start to venture out a bit more and look to take a trip to downtown Raleigh and visit us at our distillery called Young Hearts. “

While a distillery has always been something owners planned, Powers said the timeline has accelerated due to the pandemic.

The space is undergoing renovations, including the destruction of the downstairs bar. Instead, pedestrians will be able to look through street windows and see the still working. Upstairs, the management offices were removed and the back wall widened to create a 20-foot opening for the sliding barn doors. Rooftop patio diners will appreciate a large outdoor awning that will have heaters and fans.

The pandemic has also given way to new collaborations.

The folks behind Postmaster in Cary renamed the restaurant as Gov’t Cheeseburger hamburger take-out restaurant during the pandemic. And when Postmaster officially closed, Gov’t Cheeseburger changed its name to Fine Folk and hosted pop-ups at the Foundation in downtown Raleigh before moving into Union Special in Raleigh’s Gateway Plaza. Fine Folk operates Wednesday through Saturday evening at Union Special.

The owners of Kingfisher Cocktail Bar in Durham have found a way to continue serving customers when bars were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. The bar transformed its terrace into a pop-up restaurant and called it QueenBurger. The experiment was a success and led them to advertise Queeny’s, a restaurant serving drip coffee in the morning and lunch and dinner options between $ 9 and $ 14 like fried pickle spears, sandwiches, salads, main courses and desserts. It plans to open this summer directly above Kingfisher at 319 E. Chapel Hill St.

Over time, Lynn Minges, president and CEO of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, expects more restaurants like Trophy Tap & Table and Fine Folk NC to reopen with new concepts or in new places.

“I think we’re going to see restaurants come back to new places, in a new way,” Minges said. “We’re not counting these lost restaurants for good yet.”

The restaurant industry as a whole is starting to see a resurgence as COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift and more people get vaccinated.

“We’re starting to see restaurants filling up again. We’re seeing people coming back to restaurants,” Minges said. “We are seeing restaurants rehiring employees, which is now one of the biggest challenges we face. And that is, there just aren’t any employees to come back to the company.”

Spring has brought warmer temperatures and more patrons looking for alfresco dining options.

“We have a few restaurants that are only outdoor. They don’t do indoor service (during the pandemic),” said Bill King, president and CEO of the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, noting that the city has a list of outdoor dining options on its website.

In Durham, The Streetery has helped draw people to downtown restaurants. Held every second and fourth Saturday of the month, the event includes additional outdoor seating and live music.

For downtown Raleigh, the weekends were the bright spot.

“What we’re seeing, what’s interesting is there’s a big jump every weekend,” King said. “It started last fall around Labor Day. There was sort of an inflection point where downtown started to see a pickup in foot traffic and sales.

King said downtown pedestrian counters noticed a spike every Saturday, especially on sunny days.

“Since the end of February we’ve seen a lot of traffic. Our foot traffic increased 10 percent in March compared to February,” King said.

To help increase the outdoor dining space, the Dine Out Downtown series was launched. Every Saturday night through June, a different part of downtown Raleigh has long outdoor seating and live music.

“We’re at about 62 percent of pre-COVID level sales in food and beverages, which is the best we’ve had since the start of the pandemic,” King said.

Serving lunch during the week has been a challenge, King said, as many people with downtown workplaces are still working remotely.

More than 20 businesses have reopened in downtown Raleigh since February 1, and seven new restaurants have announced plans to open locations there. Notably, Union Special announced that it would open a second location at the intersection of Davie and Fayetteville streets in the heart of downtown.

“ Not all restaurants present the same risk ”

To help the hospitality industry cope with COVID-19, the NCRLA created the “Count on Me NC” program. The public health initiative, created last year, offers guidelines and training for hospitality stakeholders.

“We’re really proud in North Carolina to be the first state to go out there and create a program,” Minges said. “The program was designed to build consumer confidence simply because it involved training in front of the house, behind the house, restaurateurs and operators on best operating practices during COVID-19.

The guidelines are frequently updated as more scientific information becomes available on COVID-19.

“We focused a year ago on the importance of cleaning and disinfecting heavily affected surfaces. And over time … the study of this pandemic has evolved. Shared air is much more important, ”said Ben Chapman, food safety expert at North Carolina State University.

One thing that has remained consistent, the food itself has not been linked to the spread of COVID-19.

“A year and a half now after the start of this pandemic, we still haven’t really seen a change in science that would suggest that food itself is a vehicle of transmission,” Chapman said. “What’s interesting about food security and COVID is that it’s all the things that aren’t food. It really is the people.

With person-to-person transmission always a problem, Chapman said restaurant patrons should continue to focus on wearing masks even if they are vaccinated.

“Relaxing being vaccinated is good,” Chapman said, “but that doesn’t mean I can’t carry this virus and pass it on to other people as well.”

While bragging about fully vaccinated staff is a good thing, Chapman said it was important for companies to continue to have staff wear masks.

For those who wish to dine out, whether indoors or out, Chapman suggests researching restaurant practices before dining.

“Not all restaurants run the same risk when it comes to dining. It means how well they enforce policies or mask mandates, both with their customers and with their servers,” Chapman said. “How well they really look at their dining rooms to see what’s the best way to maximize the number of people here for our restaurant, but also in a safe way, and really think about how we do the physical distancing in those contexts. . “

With more people expected to dine in the spring and summer, restaurants will continue to evolve their strategies in the face of COVID-19.

“The food industry has been preparing to deal with COVID for years. They are very much aware that there are so many unknowns, ”Chapman said. “I think we’re all hoping this won’t be something we’re talking about in five years, but I certainly think we’re all set to handle it for a while.”



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