Rendezvous shuts its dining room; caterers suffering as events cancel

By Updated: March 17, 2020 3:53 PM CT | Published: March 17, 2020 3:12 PM CT

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Count the Rendezvous among local restaurants closing their dining rooms.

“We’ve gone through ice storms, wind storms, whatever,” co-owner John Vergos said, noting that the restaurant closed twice due to fire many years ago.


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The shipping kitchen will stay open and food will be available for takeout and delivery.

Many local restaurants are moving to takeout, curbside and delivery only because of the COVID-19 coronavirus. On Monday, March 16, President Donald Trump said in a press conference that people should not convene in groups larger than 10 and that they should avoid restaurants, bars and food courts.

Yet no one has forced Memphis restaurants to close and figuring out how to proceed is murky, restaurateurs say.

“It’s confusing for all of us,” said Karen Carrier, who owns several local restaurants including the Beauty Shop and Another Roadside Attraction catering.

“The city of Memphis has not mandated 'no one over 10 people.’ We don’t know how to navigate through this,” she said. “The federal government is saying (a limit of) 10 and on some places on the CDC website, they’re saying 50. The state isn’t saying anything and neither is the city.”

She pointed out that in Nashville, the mayor was decisive about shutting down bars, which took the guesswork out of how to move forward. The same occurred in New York, where she owns Automatic Slim’s, and in New Orleans.

“In New Orleans they closed everything down,” she said. “It’s over. They knew they couldn’t keep people off the street on St. Patrick’s Day if anything is open.”

Like others, her catering business has been hit hard.

“It’s come to a halt,” she said. “I had three buyouts of the Beauty Shop and they were canceled. Weddings have been canceled.”

Ernie Mellor, the president of the Memphis Restaurant Association and owner of Hog Wild Catering, said he laid off almost his whole staff yesterday.

“Basically every piece of business that I had on the books from about 10 days ago through the end of April and even into May has been canceled,” he said.

“We were rolling strong. We were slated to rock on. We’d gotten out of the January and February doldrums and had a solid two-week run prior to spring break, then hell hit the fan.”

He said that by laying off his employees, he hopes they get a jump on crowds of people who will be applying for unemployment. And he’s kept a few people while he tries to start smaller-scale delivery, and so that he can take a catering job if one comes.

“You can’t call me today for tomorrow, but if you call me today for a job you need in a couple of days, we’ll be able to make it happen,” he said.

Carrier has joined other restaurateurs offering curbside delivery from Beauty Shop – they’re calling it “Beauty in a Bag” – and is considering virtual concerts from Bar DKDC to help bands keep money coming in during this crisis.

“The band would play, but no one would be there,” she said. “We’d have Venmo or something set up so people could watch the show and donate. I’m not sure how it’ll all work yet, but I want to keep bands going too.”

Jimmy Gentry, owner of Paradox Catering and the chef at Interim, also lost most of his catering business and many of the employees at Interim have been laid off. Lunch has been suspended and like most restaurants, very few people are there.

“The amount of hours that I’m going to be able to give my staff is not going to amount to anything. In some ways it’s better to draw unemployment on me than get two four-hour shifts a week, so we told them that and told people we’d help them fill out unemployment papers,” he said.

Vergos said the decision to close wasn’t taken lightly – just a few days ago he planned to stay open.

“You can kind of sense when people just aren’t going to come in. And the last thing we want is someone to come here and this be when they get sick.”

Like the others, he wants his employees to be able to get unemployment and wants it to be done quickly.

“I would think that some leadership in state government needs to expedite something for restaurant workers, maybe set up some trailers just for them,” he said. “We’re being hit hard and we’ve been paying these taxes forever. It’s time to cough it up.”

As for when he’ll reopen?

“Everybody will know when it’s time to open. Once you shut down, you shut down. You don’t open in the middle of this. We’ll open when it’s over.”

Topics

Rendezvous John Vergos Karen Carrier Ernie Mellor
Jennifer Biggs

Jennifer Biggs

Jennifer Biggs is a native Memphian and veteran food writer and journalist who covers all things food, dining and spirits related for The Daily Memphian.


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