Last spring, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Haven restaurants were shuttered. Now, more than a year later, many are still reeling, while others have discovered ways to adapt to the changed circumstances.

In March of 2020, New Haven restaurant and bar owners were mandated to stay closed for two weeksBut the two weeks quickly turned into four months, and restaurant owners and consumers alike  were forced to find new ways to bring in a steady income, socialize with their friends and find quick and accessible  meals after work.

“It was really sad,” said Morgan St. John, a regular customer at Trinity Bar and Grill in downtown New Haven. “My sister and I are the type that love going out, and it was really hard to find ways to stay connected with friends.”

St. John particularly missed the opportunity to see friends and family that restaurants afforded. Unable to eat at restaurants in person, they supported local restaurants by ordering takeout at least once a week.

Still, other New Haven residents struggled less with the limits to socializing and more-so with not being able to go out and get dinner after a long day of work. New Haven resident Dallas Davis says it was a “huge hit” when local dining got taken away.

“As someone who isn’t used to cooking for themselves every night, it was an interesting chance to try out cooking,” Davis said. 

Both Davis and St. John agreed on the heartbreak of watching restaurant owners lose their businesses. As locals, it was difficult for them to watch people that were their neighbors and whom they considered friends go through such a difficult loss during the pandemic, they said.

“We just want everyone to feel loved and supported,” St. John said. 

As coronavirus case counts lowered and experts discovered more about the virus, restrictions loosened. In early June 2020, people were permitted to eat outdoors. By July, indoor seating was also allowed.

Eddie Higgins, said that they were “naive” to think they would be able to “ease into things” and that after so long, everyone was just eager to get out and about again. It was overwhelming to have the restaurant so full after so long of being quite empty. Higgins said that the return to in-person dining was a “huge” adjustment, but reconnecting with people he had not seen in months made it worth it.

But in November, a second coronavirus wave hit, and some restaurants decided to close indoor seating in an attempt  to slow the disease’s spread.  Many restaurants struggled to pay their employees and to bring in a steady income.

Some restaurants, seeking a creative route, found ways to comfortably seat customers outdoors in the cold weather, doing everything from constructing heated patios to offering blankets for customers to put over their legs while they enjoyed their food in the crisp winter weather.

However, other restaurants did not have a setup to offer these amenities, and continued to struggle to bring in an income that made staying open worth it. Some restaurants even closed fully for the winter months, and others did not open back up until early June 2021. 

In the past few months, with rising vaccination rates, restaurants have started to reopen and thrive, bringing in a steady income.

But with the proliferation of the more transmissible Delta variant, restaurant owners and consumers alike have started to worry about another potential shutdown.

By contrast, Higgins has stayed optimistic. “It has worked before; there is no reason why it should not work again,” Higgins said. “It is up to all of us now to do our part to help each other.”