Falmouth residents Mike and Kristine Dagostino, right, at Brickyard Hollow in Yarmouth on Monday night. Plastic borders and social distancing allow patrons to safely dine at the restaurant. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

Local restaurant owners say revenue was about half of what it usually is this winter so far compared to previous years, but Valentine’s Day sales offered some hope in the face of an uncertain future.

It’s been almost a year since Maine restaurants were forced by the pandemic to first close, then operate at reduced hours and capacity due to restrictions put in place by Gov. Janet Mills. Although Mills extended hours of operations for restaurants at the end of December, owners say the colder temperatures have hurt patronage.

Brendon Medeiros, operations manager at Brickyard Hollow in Yarmouth, said despite the seasonal setback, he’s cautiously optimistic about the future.  

“Our sales this Valentine’s Day were up 25% compared to last year, which was shocking,” Medeiros said. “It was our busiest week this year at the pub. I think this is a sign that when people can be back out, they will be out.” 

Medeiros contributes Brickyard’s Valentine’s Day success to an increase in diners’ comfort with outdoor dining, and the work the restaurant has done to include takeout.

“I would say this year we had a better than expected because we acted transitioning to takeout quick, and we’ve done even more pivoting in the winter months,” Medeiros said.  

Considering the period from December to February, Medeiros said, however, that business at Brickyard Hollow is down 40% compared to “the past few years” at the eatery.

Dominic Petrillo, owner of Petrillo’s Italian restaurant in Freeport, has seen total revenues cut in half compared to years past.

“That’s kind of where we are at in terms of our business level, but we see good support from our local people,” Petrillo said.

Foreside Tavern in Falmouth reported a 50% decline in revenue as well.

Part of the reason for a decline, owners said, is that people are not willing to eat out due to concerns over COVID-19. But it’s also the reduction in how many people a restaurant can seat inside due to safety reasons and social distancing.

Petrillo’s went from 10 tables to four, while Foreside Tavern has seen a 70% decrease in its dining space, leaving 20 tables inside and eight outside – although outdoor seating has seen little use this winter, Rutherford said.

Tuscan Brick Oven Bistro said the Freeport restaurant went from 165 tables pre-pandemic to 88, with the revenue dropped also to about half of what it normally would be.

Manager Jake Daniels said if they have to deal with another season like this, he’s “not positive” they’d survive.

“We’ve been super fortunate and we are at a good point right now, but it would be super tough,” Daniels said.

Employees John D’Appolonia, left, and Priscilla Dimitre prep for a night of food service at Brickyard Hollow earlier this week. Chance Viles / The Forecaster

At Petrillo’s, the dining room and takeout on Valentine’s Day were “busy but only had 75% of business previous Valentine’s Days saw,” Petrillo said.

Foreside also reported a similar drop for Valentine’s Day, noting that it was still busy and the service was “great.”

Despite business being slower than in previous years, the fact people frequented eateries at the numbers they did have Petrillo and Rutherford feeling positive.

“I am hopeful that business kind of goes back to the way it was,” Petrillo said. “With the declining cases (of COVID-19) and comfort eating out, we will see more, but it will be kind of slow growth. I don’t think there’ll be a boom. It’s a tough time of year too, though. This is a very slow time for  Freeport, so that also makes it hard to see the growth in numbers.”

“I think summer will be crazy, a lot of people want to eat outside,” Medeiros said.

Whether local restaurants will see an upswing this summer is “still too early to tell,” Rutherford said.

“It’s a holiday but people were struggling to celebrate,” Rutherford said. “Our cases are going down and vaccinations going up, but I am curious to see when this is all over if people will be comfortable in a packed restaurant, or if they are comfortable right now because it’s more empty.” 

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