Even With Indoor Dining Back, Restaurants Are Struggling in Portsmouth, NH

Two restaurateurs say the industry survives on thin margins even in the best of times, so this situation is crippling

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In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where spaces are small and rents are high, the restaurant industry is being dealt a devastating blow.

Indoor dining started this week in the state, but it turns out a lot of restaurants are still closed -- and some are even shutting down for good.

“I am concerned for Portsmouth, I am concerned for all of us,” Matt Louis said.

Louis owns four restaurants in Portsmouth. One of them is Moxy.

“It’s a such a cool, interesting, old space,” he said as he showed us around Friday.

But like many spots downtown, it’s certainly not designed for social distancing.

“At least half of these would have to go,” Louis said, referring to his main floor of tables.

Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the second part of Phase 2 of Massachusetts' reopening will begin Monday.

Without any space for outdoor tables, Louis said opening up for just indoor dining at 50% capacity doesn’t make sense financially.

“It’s actually better to just wait, still, instead of opening the flood gates on all those expenses,” he said.

Around the corner, we found the team at Cava preparing for opening night.

“It’s always great to be back,” owner John Akar said.

For him, the only way he’s paying the bills is having outdoor tables to supplement the very few indoor seats available this week.

“It’s a tough go of it,” Akar said.

In an effort to save struggling shops and restaurants in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a parking garage will be turned into an outdoor venue.

So tough that at least 10 restaurants have shut down for good since March 15.

“My feeling is that number is going to definitely increase, unfortunately,” Akar said.

Both restaurateurs say the industry survives on thin margins even in the best of times, so this situation is crippling.

“I think that every restaurant is in jeopardy right now,” Louis added.

Louis thinks it’ll be mid-winter before the Portsmouth restaurant scene feels the full effects of a socially distant summer.

“When all that’s gone and none of us have any money in the bank, that’s when I think that we are going to see the real, true, harsh reality,” he said.

As difficult as this is for restaurant owners, everyone we talked to said they support the capacity limits and social distancing guidelines.

They say there’s no other way to open up a restaurant safely amid a pandemic.

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