Seaport restaurant innovates through new regulations
Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker announced new COVID measures specifically targeting the hospitality industry. While many businesses have been negatively affected by the pandemic, the restaurant world has faced significant structural regulatory challenges that are making it nearly impossible to operate.
The Massachusetts Restaurant Association, which has fought for additional support from the state throughout the year, released a joint statement with Mass Restaurants United, the Boston Black Hospitality Coalition, and the Boston Restaurant Coalition voicing their concerns with the 9:30pm close time under the latest mandate. While most restaurant operators agree that the safety and security of their patrons is a top priority, the protesting groups argue that, “For the order to be followed, we would be unable to seat a guest after 8pm, and this presents us with the difficult prospect of rushing our guests out the door to comply with the Advisory issued by this Administration.”
The petitioners continue, in an effort to further distinguish between theirs and other industries: “Restaurants are not operated like banks or shops, where there is a set closing time, allotted service schedule, and customers ushered out the door. In an industry where revenue is often generated by diners seated after 8pm, this is a devastating proposition, and one that will cause many of our most vulnerable to permanently close their doors.”
For an industry that has only received eight weeks of federal funding in a year where government-imposed mandates limiting their ability to operate have been in place for over eight months, the worry is that mass closures will continue as 2020 drags on.
We recently visited Oak + Rowan in the Seaport to chat with the team there about how they are dealing with the new rules, and to hear about their plans for the next few weeks. According to Executive Chef Mike DiStefano, “We’re not going to change who we are or what we do. My team will continue to focus on seasonal ingredients to create some exciting dining experiences.” DiStefano and his crew have offered extensive takeout and in-person dining options throughout the year in an effort to “serve the neighborhood the best quality food at an ‘honest price.’”
Still, Oak + Rowan, like all other restaurants, continues to work through what amounts to a new truncated dinner service, all while still innovating in order to entice locals to come in for everyday meals rather than just special nights out. To that end, DiStefano has a few tricks up his sleeve, like a new “Burger Tuesday” featuring new incarnations every week, and “Fried Chicken Wednesdays,” where there will be comfort food offered in addition to their typical fine dining.
On the drinks side, Oak + Rowan has also continued to innovate with its beverage program, which for fall includes homemade concoctions. Most notably, their new “Milk Punch” is a must try. It’s a 400-year-old cocktail method in which you combine spirits, milk, spices and citrus for several days before clarifying the mixture, leaving you with a clear liquid that is much greater in taste than the sum of its parts. Take it from us, you have to try this thing, it does the trick on a cold Boston night.
“We plan on utilizing the time that we do have, encouraging earlier dinners with our themed weeknight specials as we focus on providing high quality service,” DiStefano continued. “We’re hopeful that if we remain present in the community, our customer base will help us make it through this awful time and we’ll still be there on the other side stronger than ever.”