Curfews add to local restaurant owners’ challenges

Salvatore Scarlata of Vidalia
in Lawrence.

For local restaurant owners like Salvatore Scarlata of Vidalia in Lawrence, the past few months have been rife with uncertainty, and a curfew earlier this week only compounded worries.

Lawrence, Ewing, Hamilton, and Trenton put a 7 p.m. curfew in place on Monday in response to violence and looting in the capital city on Sunday night. Businesses were forced to be closed between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m. The curfew was lifted on Wednesday night.

Back in late March, Vidalia, like many other area restaurants, switched to a takeout and delivery model following the New Jersey governor’s executive order banning in-person dining. Some other restaurants closed altogether. Scarlata said that though customers have been very understanding and generous, business has dropped substantially without in-person dining.

With Monday’s curfew forcing him to further reduce his restaurant’s operations, Scarlata said he felt he and his staff were left in limbo once again. When he called the township on Tuesday afternoon, Scarlata was told the curfew would be in place until further notice.

Scarlata has remained optimistic throughout the pandemic. He posts videos on Vidalia’s social media showing customers how curbside deliveries are working and what health and safety precautions the restaurant’s staff members are taking. He and other restaurant owners in the state also received some good news this past week when Murphy announced the statewide reopening of non-essential retail on June 15.

Despite his continued optimism, Scarlata said the curfew was upsetting, and unnecessary for suburban restaurants such as Vidalia. He expressed faith in both the Lawrenceville community and police to protect local businesses.

“I believe we are safe from what’s going on,” he said. “What’s happening right now, it’s more centered in cities.”

Scarlata said the past three months have been a completely new and unexpected experience for the Vidalia team, marked by heartbreak for the employees he was forced to furlough and the students he had hoped to welcome to the restaurant for graduation celebrations in May.

“I adapted to survive,” Scarlata said. “I have a family to feed. I have about 25 employees and I promised myself I wasn’t going to give up.”

Scarlata is nervous about the future of small businesses. He predicts the next six months will be particularly difficult, and many businesses will have to close. But he feels confident that the quality of his food and service, as well as community support for his restaurant, will bring customers back.