Henry Bova

LARCHMONT, NY — Rob Gorsline, owner of Tequila Sunrise, a popular Tex-Mex restaurant in Larchmont, suffered through his worst spring ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But after reopening on June 9th, he is just a few days away from canceling out that deficit. 

While restaurants continue to take a massive hit from the pandemic, that has not been the case in Larchmont. After a brutal first few months, local restaurants are now seeing skyrocketing profits while adhering to strict protocols. They have only been able to serve people in person since June 9th, they can only fill their buildings to half capacity, and they have to be diligent about PPE and social distancing, as per New York State law. Guidelines like these should spell financial struggle, but these businesses are thriving.

This kind of development seemed impossible early on, when restaurants were barred from serving customers in person. In March, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced a cautious, four-phase reopening plan where different regions of the state could reopen slowly if COVID levels were low. It began in mid-May, a full month after some states fully reopened.

Outdoor seating at restaurants was a part of phase 2, and indoor seating at half capacity was shelved until phase 3. PPP loans from the Federal government did help out restaurants statewide, but the lack of diners was detrimental.

Gorsline described that early period as “depressing,” adding, “We were probably down 60% from what we’d do those months normally.”  

His restaurant, a large, traditional sit down place, had to make a hard pivot to delivery only, which previously accounted for only 5% of his total business. This move not only lost Tequila Sunrise money, but created logistical challenges regarding his employees. He would normally need 25-30 waiters, waitresses, and bartenders working on weekends, but from March to early June he only needed, and could only afford, seven.

With downsizing also came new roles his remaining servers weren’t used to. Gorsline was forced to convert his remaining staff into delivery drivers and figure out how to optimize his delivery system, which he said took a while to nail down.

Problems from having to adjust to delivery-only also hit places in town that were already structured around delivery, like Lala Taqueria, a more contemporary Mexican spot. Owner Fabian Gallardo said his business lost 10-20% of their usual sales from having to go delivery only. 

“You lose revenue without people inside, and it really took a toll,” Gallardo said. “Plus, profits are already really slim in the restaurant industry.” 

It was a long wait for restaurants to begin serving food in-person, so Larchmont Mayor Lorraine Walsh knew that even before Westchester County got the go-ahead, she wanted her town to be ready. “We had started planning before phase 1 began [in late May]. We wanted to figure out a way to provide additional space for restaurants,” she said. 

What the town decided on was closing off sections of roads to add extra tables so restaurants could serve close to as many people as they would normally. “We gave them the option of using sidewalks, parking lots, or parts of driving lanes,” Walsh said. “We then rented about 85 concrete blocks and moved them into place for barriers between restaurants and traffic. On the Tuesday outdoor dining opened, we were set up.”

The result of this quick action was an unprecedented boom that is alleviating the economic pain of the early pandemic. “We had our worst spring ever, we’re currently having our best summer ever and it’s not even close,” Gorsline said. 

Gorsline pointed out that because Larchmont was so ahead of the curve, they attracted customers from neighboring towns and cities: New Rochelle, Eastchester, and even the Bronx, something that rarely happened before. 

Local restaurant owners have embraced New York’s slower approach to reopening, especially after seeing rollbacks happening in other states. 

“I have plenty of friends in LA that told me, ‘We’re closed, now we’re open, now we’re closed again,’” said Gallardo. “New York did a great job, we still at least have the opportunity to dine outside.”As a result, profits at his business have also rebounded.

There is a bit of skepticism about whether this setup can continue to be a money maker in the near future. “This isn’t gonna last forever. Once the weather starts getting colder, who knows what’s gonna happen,” Gorsline said, echoing fears that people aren’t going to eat outside in the late fall and winter. 

Still, Mayor Walsh believes harsher weather can be overcome. “We know we’re leaving everything as is until the end of October, and we’re thinking about tents and heaters to continue this beyond November,” she said. “We want to figure how to keep this going on.”