The quarantine has affected restaurants across the region, as they have had to face abrupt and sweeping changes without warning. Some who were not set up for takeout have not had the same resources to adapt for it. Some have closed until indoor seating can resume. And some will not re-open.
In Cambridge, N.Y., Scott and Lisa Carrino have built a local community since they opened the Round House Bakery Café in 2013. They began in the old bank building downtown, and in summer 2017 they they moved into in the historic village general store space on the ground floor of the Hubbard Hall Center for the Arts and Education.
They closed down the café in mid-March and emptied the shelves. On June 2 they announced that they would not be coming back.
Scott and Lisa Carrino have run the Round House Café in Cambridge, N.Y., for eight years, and this summer would have marked their third at Hubbard Hall. They opened the cafe, they said, out of a decades-long relationship with the town around them.
“People would call it the core of the community,” Scott said, talking by phone in late June as he and Lisa were quietly working to close the café down.
They will keep their bakery running at their Pompanuck Farm in White Creek, as it has run for 10 years, with breads, scones and muffins, cookies and more (for pre-order at pompanuck.org and pickup on Fridays and Sundays) and summer picnic dinners — summer sandwiches, fruit salads, desserts — and they are planning for the Wednesday jazz lunches and pizza nights they introduced at the café.
“We’ve always been community-minded,” he said. “We have run youth programs at the farm, we had a Memorial Day arts and music festival for 20 years … We decided to open the café to bring that energy downtown, for that networking within the community and social involvement.”
“It’s very hard and very sad,” said David Snider, executive and artistic director at Hubbard Hall.
He and the Carrinos often worked together to hold community events, he said. When Hubbard Hall held summer outdoor Shakespeare performances, the Round House would prepare picnics and stay open late. They catered the Hubbard Hall gala and dinners before mainstage shows.
“We’ve always been community-minded,” Scott said. “We have run youth programs at the farm, we had a Memorial Day arts and music festival for 20 years … We decided to open the café to bring that energy downtown, for that networking within the community and social involvement.”
“… We’ve lived here since 1987, and we’ve done many things with kids in the region — people know us quite well, and we love our community. We love our community so much, and we want to be part of the life of our community.”
The community has rallied behind them, he said, through their move to Hubbard Hall, and through his recent cardiac surgery in 2019.
The Round House has played a role in all of these community and creative programs, Snider said, and he will miss working with the Carrinos. He fully understands the challenges they have faced this spring and summer.
When Covid-19 first hit, Scott said, the Round House Café planned to stay open for takeout. The Carrino have always offered takeout as a large part of their business, he said: baked goods, soups and sandwiches, salads and dinner specials. But soon after they made the announcement, on March 16, Hubbard Hall closed completely, following state guidelines, and the restaurant had no choice but to close with it.
The Carrinos had to remove their entire stock of perishable food, they said. The restaurant’s state licenses and insurances came up for renewal while they were closed. They would have had to invest in their liquor license and inspections on the kitchen equipment — significant expenses — and the state would not allow any period of grace, even while restaurants were closed and the state’s guidelines on reopening are subject to change.
“All this has caused such turmoil,” Scott said. “The Payroll Protection rules were changing by the week.”
In late May, as they considered their options for re-opening, Snider said, and those challenges remained. Many of their staff and regular customers were also high-risk and vulnerable to Covid-19, and the Hall has only limited room out front for a few outdoor tables.
They could expand outdoor seating on their lawn out back, he said, though they would have to invest in the tables and setup, and in New York, indoor seating will be half of full occupancy — a café that can seat 40 people will now be limited to 20.
As the Carrinos considered the cost of re-opening, they felt the footprint of the restaurant would not allow enough indoor seating to be sustainable, and setting up for outdoor seating would mean investing more in tables and umbrellas.
They have decided instead to continue with their bakery up the road at Pompanuck Farm. Coming back to their farm gives them the flexibility to cook and serve and experiment, and they love the farm on its country road in the hills between Cambridge, N.Y. and North Bennington, Vt., though they are saddened by the change.
Snider wants to work with them and continue to bring in their breads and baked goods. And the Carrinos are planning pizza days and jazz lunches and music and the arts at the farm, similar to many of the informal events they have held all year round.
At the Hall, the Round House started its own jazz series on Wednesday nights, Snider said. Hubbard Hall brought in open mics and poetry readings, and Snider began a series of breaking bread potlucks.
He realized several years ago, he said, as Hubbard Hall grew as a center for dance and theater and youth programs, that he saw gay and trans students trying to talk with their parents, and gay couples married for decades, with long loving relationships — but the generations had no place to connect. So he began a gathering for the LGBTQ community.
Some of the potlucks are for them, he said, and some are open to allies. A group leader coordinates then now, Snider said, and they have taken on a life of their own.
“A space dedicated to the LGBTQ community with cross-generation dialog, celebrating together and struggling together — we thought, what can we do to activate that support, because it’s not here? The closest Pride center is in Albany — where do youth go? Albany’s too far for a 15-year-old.”
“It’s a support for the community,” he said.
Breaking Bread has returned to the Hall as a picnic in June. People could ot sharing food, but they came toether outdoors, sitting on blankets six feet apart and wearing masks. They plan to resume regularly in September. At the same time, as the summer warms up, Snider sees opportunities in Cambridge.
“I’ve been at the farmers market since it re-opened, and I’m seeing a real mix — enthusiasm and trepidation. People are wary. We’re asking, what does this mean? With space and safety protocols, people are figuring out how to navigate safely. And it’s going well.”
He is planning an outdoor Shakespeare performance in August with All’s Well that Ends Well.
“It’s one I’ve never done,” he said. “It’s an adventure and a play people don’t know well.” They will have a one-hour adaptation with eight actors, and he is looking at ways to work with a new sound system to reach a spread-out audience.
People want a place to gather to talk over the play, and a place to linger over dinner when most restaurants in rural New York towns have closed.
“I spent 20 years in New York and Washington D.C. before I came here,” he said, “and I’d think ‘what do you mean there’s nowhere to go on opening night? People like to have a beer or a glass of wine and talk about what they just saw.”
He encouraged the Argyle Brewery from Greenwich, N.Y., in their move to open a pub and tasting room in the historic Railroad Station in Cambridge, he said, as he encouraged the Carrinos to move to the Hall. Now Snider is actively looking for new tenants to come into the café space. He hopes they will become as fully part of the Hall’s programming as the Carrinos have been, and as fully a part of the community.
“The café helped the Hall,” Scott said, “with the amount of foot traffic, and the audience at the shows enjoyed coming in pre-show and for dinner. It was a symbiotic relationship.”
He hopes to see a new café come into the Hall space soon. A small country town needs that kind of gathering space, he said.
“We’re optimistic for our own future, and we are hopeful for Cambridge,” he said. “It’s hard in these little towns for businesses to make it, and Covid-19 has made it much, much harder. We wish our community a lot of luck — it’s been hard on everyone.”