Beale Street Barbeque employees (from left) Krysten Deschaines, Michael Fields, Chloe White and Sean Webster prepare meals for Bath Iron Works employees. The restaurant makes about 1,200 meals for the shipyard per day. Photo courtesy of Michael Quigg

BATH — Last week, Bath Iron Works started purchasing lunches for employees made by local restaurants, an arrangement that has kept some of those eateries afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the owners.

“BIW has been a really big lifeline that’s keeping us going,” said Michael Quigg, owner of Beale Street Barbeque in Bath. “If this offer hadn’t come through, we would’ve had to close or lay people off.”

Quigg said the restaurant supplies 1,200 meals per day for BIW employees. His brother’s restaurant, Riverfront Barbeque and Grill in Augusta, is helping supply meals and the Centre Street Bakery in Bath is making cookies for the lunches.

“By working with us BIW is saving about 12 jobs and keeping three businesses open,” said Quigg. “It takes a little social distance to bring people together.”

In total, 13 local restaurants supply about 5,000 lunches per day, according to David Hench, BIW spokesman. Hench declined say how much the shipyard is spending on these lunches.

“Our local restaurants have been severely impacted by COVID-19 (the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus) and we are grateful for their efforts and appreciative of the support for the work we do as an essential part of the defense industrial base,” BIW wrote in a March 20 notice to employees.

Two weeks ago Gov. Janet Mills ordered all restaurants and bars in Maine to close to dine-in customers and prohibited social gatherings of more than 10 people. That mandate was extended to April 30 as part of Mills’ statewide stay-at-home order on Tuesday.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday the total number of confirmed cases has risen to 344, an increase of 41 since Tuesday. The death toll in Maine has risen to seven.

After Mills’ initial order, John Brigance, owner of Midcoast Pizza and More in Bath said business dropped by 20-25% and he began weighing whether to lay off employees or take out a loan.

“BIW has saved us from taking out a loan or going under,” said Brigance. “There is no way in the world we would’ve survived without BIW.”

Brigance said he makes between 500 and 700 sandwiches per day for the company.

“They’re giving us enough business for a slow to typical week,” said Brigance. “We’re not making a fortune, but it’s allowing me to pay my employees and my bills.”

Brigance said he had to limit some employees’ hours but hasn’t laid anyone off.

According to data from the Maine Department of Labor, nearly 21,500 Mainers filed for unemployment benefits during the week ending March 21, by far the highest weekly total on record.

The weekly number of new claims is nearly quadruple that of the first week in January 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession, when about 5,600 Mainers filed for unemployment benefits, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Lisa Fraser, the owner of Fiona’s Catering, was once able to bring her food truck into the shipyard to sell food to BIW employees but decided to stop when coronavirus began spreading rapidly throughout the state.

“Our business is 99% BIW anyway, but then we couldn’t bring our truck into the shipyard,” said Fraser. “I think we would’ve closed if this offer from BIW hadn’t happened … the first thing I thought was ‘thank God.’”

She and her 11 employees make 500 to 600 meals per day for BIW workers.

In a message to employees, Dirk Lesko president of BIW, wrote: “Here in Maine where store shelves are often bare and staff is stretched thin we’ve been blessed with support from local restaurants who are working night and day to provide boxed lunches for the shipbuilders of BIW.”

BIW officials have faced recent criticism for continuing operations even though an employee has tested positive for the coronavirus. The company offered employees unpaid leave, but remains open, despite the fact that more than half of the workers aren’t showing up, a BIW union official said last week.

Leaders of the shipyard’s largest unions have repeatedly demanded the shipyard close to protect workers and their families from coronavirus, but BIW officials point to a presidential mandate that requires the shipyard to remain open because it builds destroyers for the U.S. Navy.

Comments are not available on this story.