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St. Helena restaurants hit hard by coronavirus shutdown

St. Helena restaurants hit hard by coronavirus shutdown

From the Complete coronavirus coverage from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series

St. Helena restaurants are being hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, even as many of them find creative ways to stay in business during the shelter-at-home order.

Like many restaurants, Villa Corona is offering takeout, but business is down by about two-thirds compared to normal at this time of year, said owner Daniel Villasenor.

With no on-site dining, Villasenor was forced to lay off two front-of-house workers and one of his three kitchen staff. He said he “definitely” plans to rehire them when the shelter-at-home order is lifted.

“If things get back to normal in a few months, we should be OK because of what we’re doing right now with a skeleton crew,” he said. “Our landlords are being nice to us right now too, but if things keep going the way they are we might need to get a small-business loan or something. Hopefully it won’t be that long.”

At Gillwoods, all 18 workers have been laid off, although the restaurant plans to rehire them, said co-owner Jennifer Fradelizio. In the meantime they’ve all filed for unemployment, and the owners are checking in with them daily.

Fradelizio said Gillwoods isn’t set up to be able to offer a reduced number of to-go orders, in part because of its large menu.

“We’re just hoping the shelter-at-home order ends when they say it will and doesn’t get extended,” she said. “If it is extended, we might have to reevaluate whether we come up with a smaller menu or find some way to be open in some form.”

As of Tuesday, Napa County’s shelter-at-home order was scheduled to be lifted April 8, but some Bay Area jurisdictions planned to extend theirs to May 3.

Like many other business owners, Fradelizio recently discovered that Gillwoods’ insurance policy doesn’t cover losses incurred as a result of a virus.

“Lord only knows how that clause got in there,” Fradelizio said dryly.

It’s been heartening to see customers buy Gillwoods gift cards through the Chamber of Commerce’s St. Helena Gift Card Challenge, Fradelizio added.

“It’s great to know that people care and they want us to stay open,” she said. “It’s so kind and encouraging.”

Co-owner Eduardo Martinez said Market Restaurant tried offering takeout for a few days, but it just didn’t work.

“In terms of fixed expenses, you’re pretty much running a full restaurant without all the people coming in,” he said.

Market has about 45 employees. Most of the front-of-house staff and some of the kitchen staff have filed for unemployment, Martinez said.

He’s providing letters for his employees’ landlords in hopes that they will provide some relief while the employees are out of work. Market provides insurance benefits for its employees, and Martinez has promised to pay out of his pocket to keep those benefits active during the shutdown.

Market’s insurance policy has the same virus clause as Gillwoods’.

“That was even more bad news on top of what we were already dealing with,” Martinez said.

Gift cards sold through Market’s own website and the Chamber of Commerce have been very helpful in maintaining some cash flow to pay fixed expenses, Martinez added.

“I want to give a big thanks to the community,” he said.

Chef Nash Cognetti has gotten creative at Pizzeria Tra Vigne and his catering business, Tre Posti. In addition to offering takeout, Pizzeria Tra Vigne is selling make-your-own-pizza kits and using Facebook Live to share secrets behind the restaurant’s pizza and the beloved mozzarella al minuto that was a favorite at the old Tra Vigne restaurant.

“The good news is we’re able to keep most of our people working,” Cognetti said. Even without patrons dining in, “you still need to deliver pizzas and answer phones and do takeout orders,” he said.

Regardless of how long the shelter-at-home order is extended, Pizzeria Tra Vigne isn’t going anywhere, Cognetti said.

“We’ve been here for 25 years and we’ll be here another 25 years,” he said. “We’ve gone through recessions, earthquakes, fires. We’ll keep going no matter what it takes.”

The slowdown is sure to affect the city’s bottom line through reduced sales tax and hotel tax revenue. According to a statement released by the city, “it’s too early to accurately assess the budget impacts” of the coronavirus, but projected revenue impacts will be presented to the City Council on April 14.

In the interim, the city has established several cost containment measures, including the suspension of all non-essential purchases and travel/training.

“Our whole community is taking losses,” Martinez said. “If we work together and we are patient together, we’ll get through this. ... It’s a chain, and if someone fails, a lot of other people will fail too.”

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/.

You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.

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