Montclair is a foodie town, but COVID-19 has adversely affected most restaurants, especially small ones. I reached out to Montclair restaurants I previously reviewed to see how they were coping with the pandemic.
With no indoor dining allowed, Tostchu, a Turkish sandwich and cafe, has added 10 tables outside. However, the beginning of the pandemic was very difficult, says owner, Gokhan Bars, and Tostchu was closed for 58 days. Tostchu later used Doordash and Uber Eats, and also received support from an SBA loan, which provided enough money to cover four months of rent. Bars also is hopeful that the town will close half of Glenridge Avenue, making it a one way street, and opening the other half to restaurants to set out more tables.
Kai Yang was closed for almost two months. Due to the volume of paperwork, they did not get around to applying for grants, but might have to do so. Sheree Sarabhaya, chef/owner, had to lay off about a quarter of the staff (mostly wait staff), but hopes to rehire them when she can. Even though Sarabhaya could have put three tables on the narrow sidewalk in front of the restaurant, she opted not to because the waiters would not earn enough tips. Kai Yang also increased some prices and modified its delivery and pick-up menu. Even so, Sarabhaya says “If anyone needs food, just let us know. It’s no problem whatsoever.”
Layers of Flavors has switched over to operating online only, offering free delivery on prepared meals, desserts, and baked goods.
Unfortunately, other restaurants closed or vacated their spaces. The space for the Taste of Philippines on Bloomfield Avenue, which had amazing spam fries and halo halo, is currently up for sale or rent.
The Montclair community has also come to the aid of many businesses. During the pandemic, high school students and others supported Johan Inoa, the owner and sole employee of Paraiso Cocina Dominicana. Paraiso has been a go-to spot for high schoolers for lunch for seven years. Tyler Chan, a senior at Montclair High School, set up a Gofundme and raised over $1,000 as a surprise for Inoa.
Inoa was really appreciative because it helped keep his business afloat. He says he only upped his prices by $1, even though many people told him to increase it more, because he wanted to make sure there was an affordable place for people to eat.
Looking ahead, many restaurant owners are expressing concern with reopening indoor dining.
Whether it be wiping tables down frequently at Paraiso, disinfecting credit card scanners at Empanada or Nada, or checking employees’ temperatures when they arrive at Kai Yang, these businesses say they will take extra precautions to ensure their customers’ safety.
Georgia Chen is a rising senior at Montclair High School.