Restaurants

Cambridge City Council to discuss whether to suspend indoor dining again

Restaurant owners are speaking out against the impending decision.

The bar at Pammy's. Pammy's

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Update: During the city council meeting, Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui stated that “there’s some confusion around whether what vote we take tonight [and] what it will do or not do, and I want to just reiterate for the record that the council does not have any authority to shut down businesses and will have that discussion later. It is around a regional conversation and that’s all that we have the authority to direct as the policymakers.”

When Cambridge City Council meets at 5:30 p.m. Monday, it will discuss whether to once again close down indoor dining in an effort to curb rising COVID-19 cases.

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According to the meeting’s agenda, city manager Louis A. DePasquale will “confer with the Metro Mayor’s Association to close indoor dining, gyms, casinos, and other non-essential indoor activities as soon as possible,” while also working with relevant city departments to organize small business and restaurant relief to “assist during this second shutdown and our efforts to stop community spread of COVID-19 and keep schools open.”

Ahead of the meeting, some Cambridge restaurant owners have expressed their concern and asked diners to advocate on their behalf.

“Is anybody else wondering who takes care of us after we’ve been caring for our communities all these years?” Pammy’s, a popular Italian restaurant between Cambridge’s Central and Harvard Squares, wrote in an Instagram post. “We are restauranteurs not politicians, we are chefs not public health experts. We are hospitality professionals not activists or journalists. Recently however, notice how our roles have changed? We are expected to be all these things to keep our businesses afloat and our communities safe. But, I’m afraid we have come to the end of our rope and we need your help.”

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The post called Cambridge’s proposal to shut down indoor dining “unconscionable without a stimulus package from our government,” and urged diners to email their city council members and local officials.

“Please demand they take action to pass a stimulus bill that will protect us,” the post continued. “Winter is coming and if relief doesn’t come first, we will be forced to close.”

Will Gilson, chef-owner at Puritan & Co. in Cambridge’s Inman Square, made a similar plea.

“Do you know what happens when you add up all the pivots that the restaurant industry has had to do to stay alive?” he asked in an Instagram post. “You end up just going in circles. We built makeshift patios, we popped up, we made (and still continue to) meals for those who are less fortunate. Still it’s impossible to make it work, yet we do. We can’t ask anymore of our patrons to find new ways to support us. Our main asset has always been our dining room. Come Monday our local Cambridge officials are voting to decide if we can even use that asset. There is no relief package on the horizon, no plan other than to just tell restaurants to deal with it. Rent still has to be paid and we are expected to just tell our hard working staff to go back on soon expiring benefits.”

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Massachusetts Restaurant United, a coalition of independent restaurant professionals who have advocated for government relief, encouraged those who live or work in Cambridge to email [email protected] “and let them know that restaurants needs to keep their dining rooms open or receive relief if we cannot.”

Last week, Ana Sortun, chef-owner at Oleana, Sofra Bakery & Cafe, and Sarma, told Boston.com that closing indoor dining would mean that “we would need to lay off most of our service staff. All of our servers.” Oleana and Sofra are both located in Cambridge.

During Gov. Charlie Baker’s Monday morning press conference, he was asked whether the state would consider following Cambridge’s lead and end indoor dining anytime soon. The governor shot down the idea, but said that if “they believe their community needs to go beyond what we’ve done, that we support their ability to do that.” He cited other Massachusetts communities that have implemented tighter restrictions — notably Pittsfield, which suspended indoor dining last week after a spike in cases.

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“This is all consistent with what we would describe as giving locals the flexibility if they think there’s something in their community they need to deal with to go ahead and do that,” Baker said.

When asked whether the statewide data indicated that Massachusetts should once again shut down indoor dining, Baker said it didn’t.

“No, we haven’t seen anything that would imply otherwise on that at this time,” he replied.

If Cambridge does decide to suspend indoor dining, it would follow in the footsteps of other cities and states in recent weeks. San Francisco and Philadelphia have both banned indoor dining, while Oregon launched a two-week statewide freeze on Nov. 18, relegating restaurants to takeout and delivery only.

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