Ocean City restaurant owner Douglas Buxbaum thought spring would be great for business. Now nearly all his business is gone because of the coronavirus
Salisbury Daily Times
REHOBOTH BEACH — Murat Tan opened his Mediterranean restaurant, Aroma, in Rehoboth Beach on March 16.
An inconspicuous date — had it not been the same day Delaware eateries and bars were ordered to halt dine-in services to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Tan and Aroma’s head chef had prepped all weekend, excited for the soft opening that Monday: There were sheets of flaky sweet baklava stuffed with Turkish pistachios. The Doner kebab would have yogurt and butter and blistered peppers in the pita bread, a pillowy vehicle for the shaved and juicy beef-lamb combo.
Tan’s dishes would have smelled like the best street food in the Levant, right off Wilmington Avenue.
Most dishes at Aroma, even the bread pudding, have those intensely flavorful burnt edges. People walking by, with the aroma of char-grilled meat and smoky eggplant filling their nostrils, would have been reminded that summer was just around the corner.
But when Tan got an email opening day saying all restaurants must close that night by 8, he knew he had to cancel his soft opening.
Knowing foot traffic would be light, he still decided to open — for the four hours he was allotted.
His only customers were a woman and her daughter. They had a few drinks and appetizers, and by 8 p.m., Tan had to ask them to leave, per Gov. John Carney’s order.
It’s been just over a month since Aroma opened, and all but Tan’s first customers have been for take-out orders.
The restaurant has been offering take-out, delivery and curbside pickup since March, meaning you can still get skewered chicken with its crackly char-grilled bits along with the wonderful myriad of tahini-EVOO-lemon-garlic creations, from hummus to baba gannush, all homemade.
But the impressive wooden bar remains unused, the white cloth napkins untouched.
“This is nothing like we are used to,” he said on the phone. “We normally open our doors. Clients come in, we give them something to drink. We prepare their food. We serve them. We look them in the face.”
People now just hurry in to pick up their food and then head straight home. Tan can’t see or hear if they’re enjoying their meal, save for an online review later on, a social media post, maybe a phone call.
“We’re afraid when they come in,” he said, referring to the coronavirus. “We’re afraid of not being able to serve them. They’re afraid of us. It’s a very difficult situation.”
Adds Tan: “I have a 3-year-old. I have to be very careful around her.”
Still, Aroma isn’t the only restaurant navigating this new world of shuttered dining spaces and stay-at-home orders.
“Everybody’s on the same boat,” Tan said. “As long as the boat goes up and down with everyone in it, we should be able to adapt to it and survive, given that people are understanding and work with each other.”
New restaurants already have a long, hard and greasy road ahead of them: Breaking even the first year, let alone making a profit, is somewhat of a miracle. Add to that a saturated (but always hungry) market in coastal Delaware, and you have a recipe for high restaurant turnover.
Tan has been down that road before. He successfully ran two restaurants in Lewes for several years before taking a lease at the former 208 Social, a cozy building just off the main avenue.
But he’s never run a business during a massive public health crisis like this.
He’s never been ordered to stop feeding people in his restaurant.
“Under the circumstances, I don’t think it could be any better,” he said of the take-out business. “But is it good? No, it’s not good. Are we doing what we hoped to do? Of course not.”
If you go
Read or Share this story: https://www.delmarvanow.com/story/news/local/delaware/2020/04/27/rehoboth-beach-restaurant-opened-during-covid-19-pandemic/5165033002/
Source: Thanks https://eu.delmarvanow.com/story/news/local/delaware/2020/04/27/rehoboth-beach-restaurant-opened-during-covid-19-pandemic/5165033002/