A tale of two restaurants: The best of times, now the worst of times


HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — One of COVID-19’s biggest industry impacts revolves around restaurants. It’s estimated that restaurants will lose $1.3 billion dollars due to the pandemic, and many will never reopen.  

10 On Your Side went to two local restaurants: Roger Brown’s Restaurant and Sports Bar in downtown Portsmouth and Tempt Restaurant Lounge in Virginia Beach. Both are staples of their communities, and both enjoy tremendous popularity. 

On a given weekday, 300 people visit Roger Brown’s. That tops around 1,000 on weekends. On this day, it sits empty and 90 percent of business is gone due to COVID-19. 

“We went from a very full restaurant, to 90 percent of our staff furloughed, and 90 percent of our business is gone. We now do delivery, takeout and curbside pickup,” Roger Brown’s owner Curtis Lyons said. 

Lyons even opened a market and grocery, and claims they’ve never run out of toilet paper at $1 a roll.  

Over at Tempt, owner Tiffany Ladner not pleased with Gov. Ralph Northam and his executive orders.

“I think he has been very wishy-washy… We had no idea this was coming. All of a sudden you can only have 10 people, then 10 in each room, then you can’t have anyone in your restaurant, period,” Ladner said.

Tempt’s reputation is that of a neighborhood bar: a gathering place celebrating great food, cold drinks, bands and good cheer. Today, all that is gone, and Ladner is very blunt. She wants the governor to open restaurants with social distancing restrictions by May 11. 

“I think it is time to open up. I do. I think it is time to open up, and I think we need to be careful and responsible. I think it is time to get people back to work,” she said. 

At Roger Brown’s, Lyons has seen the mixed signals from the governor too, but also respects his medical background.

“Right now, it may be May 8 or May 11, but he has a stay-at-home order until June 10. It is confusing. We care about our employees, our guests, and we want everyone to be safe,” Lyons told 10 On Your Side.

They both hope to open around May 8 at 50 percent capacity — and both are preparing — but Ladner is not confident that will happen. 

“If the governor was to say 50 percent occupancy, then we would move restaurant bar stools, just serve guests at every other table and exercise social distancing,” Lyons said. 

In the meantime, Ladner is trying new things, like the now-famous Car Hop Friday Night Happy Hour in the parking lot.

“When we did our very first car hop, which was pretty good, someone said the same thing — they were concerned about social distancing,” Ladner said.

To be clear, everyone that comes to the car hop sits in the car or stands at the car with other people from that particular car. Conversations take place across the parking spaces with people from other cars, and everyone socializes.   

Even with the car hop, Ladner has had a tough go of it.

Ladner is trying to figure out what Tempt will look like when she reopens.

“There will be no linen napkins. I don’t know if we will use plates and real glassware anymore. We are talking about taking peoples’ temperatures. People walk in the door we say, ‘Let me take your temperature. Oh, sorry you are 99.9 [degrees]. Sorry folks you can’t come in today.’ Is that what we are supposed to say?” she said.

This is the worst Lyons has seen in 20 years at Roger Brown’s.

“It’s tough. Loss of food. Closed this long. Loss of inventory. Takeout orders. We are down 90 percent in sales. It’s hard to come back from all that,” Lyons said. “I told someone on March 17 all of Seattle’s restaurants are down 90 percent, and by that Saturday, our business was gone.” 

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