A year ago, restaurant revenue dried up like an over cooked corned beef – a year later, hope returns 

  • All you can eat corned beef and cabbage with red potatoes and carrots at Alan's of Boscawen on Tuesday.

  • George Reagan cutting up heads of cabbage for Alan's of Boscawen's Saint Patrick's Day menu on Tuesday. Melissa Curran / Monitor staff

  • Chef George Reagan taking corned beef out of the oven for Alan’s of Boscawen’s Saint Patrick’s Day menu on Tuesday. Melissa Curran photos / Monitor staff

  • Chef George Reagan cutting up heads of cabbage for Alan's of Boscawen's Saint Patrick's Day menu on Tuesday, March 16, 2021. Melissa Curran—Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 3/16/2021 5:04:10 PM

This year, restaurateurs would like to hand out fewer doggie bags.

They’d like fewer leftovers destined for the garbage.

After a year of shut downs, capacity restrictions, and worried customers, they hope they can approach normalcy on Saint Patrick’s Day, one of the biggest celebrations – and moneymakers – of the year.

COVID ruined everything one year ago Wednesday. It ambushed steady businesses like Alan’s of Boscawen and the Allenstown Country Diner, closing them down completely as state officials evaluated the threat of the coronavirus pandemic. Revenue dried up over night. 

Gone were the funny green hats and noisemakers and toasts and green beer. And while Alan Andrian and his staff did their best to send people home with food – corned beef and cabbage, what else? – it became clear that he had ordered way too much food ahead of the celebration.  

“It was a disaster,” said Andrian, owner of Alan’s. “Last year we lost it all. This year we’re looking forward. You can never make up what you lost, but at least we’re putting our best foot forward.”

All eating establishments statewide were closed for in-door dining on Saint Patrick’s Day, 2020. Andrian had purchased 500 pounds of corned beef, ready to serve about 800 meals, complete with fixings.

The meat was sliced and ready to go, Andrian said.

“You have to cook it for a long time,” Andrian said. “There’s a lot of prep involved. We were ready to go.”

Then he, like everyone else, got shut down, left with more food than he knew what to do with, selling takeout only, hoping to get rid of the rest of the food in the days to come.

Andrain mentioned that corned beef and cabbage doesn’t taste as good unless it’s served on one particular day.

“We tried to sell it and ran packages to get rid of it,” Andrian said, “but corned beef and cabbage, people want that on Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s not something you’re going to eat in the middle of the winter.”

Andrian said he took a cautious approach this year, knowing full well that, for now, a new kind of normalcy was the norm. An abnormal one.

He bought 350 pounds of brisket, not 500, knowing the crowd will be smaller than usual. But, unlike last year, people will come, he said, because in-house dining is back.

Some customers are fed up with the pandemic and won’t miss this Saint Patrick’s Day at Alan’s for the world. Many in the senior crowd who plan on showing up have already been vaccinated. 

“This year the corned beef is cooking as we speak,” Andrain said Tuesday. “Maybe get a crowd, which we did not have last year.”

Neither did Theresa Gelinas. She opened the Allenstown Country Diner six years ago and has attracted a loyal fan base. She had bought five corned beefs, along with mounds of cabbage and potatoes a year ago, when no one knew what to make of this coronavirus thing.

“We were hoping that many, many, many people were going to show up,” Gelinas said, “and we had all the fixings, and then we were shut down. We bought so much, so thank God for my regular customers, or it would have been a different story.”

The diner, of course, remains less profitable than in previous years, even while allowing half as many people in than usual, reducing the number of tables available from 16 to 10.

“We’re still taking a hit,” Gelinas said.

This awful timeline got worse after Saint Patrick’s Day. Hometown places like the Allenstown diner thrive on the camaraderie inside. Meanwhile, Chinese restaurants and pizza places did relatively well with take-out only.

“We lost 90 to 95 percent of our business during those two months,” Gelinas said. “We did not pay the payroll and we had to let people go.”

Vaccinations and recent data on infections and deaths suggest decent crowds will show up Wednesday at bars and restaurants, ready to return to some sense of normalcy.

Restaurant owners have ordered less food and can only guess how much corned beef and cabbage will be needed. 

“We’re just hoping to do better than last year and I think we will,” Gelinas said. “The regulars are calling to see if we’re doing it this year.

“Some of them are older, and they don’t want to buy cabbage and corned beef and have dinner at home,” she continued. “They want the dinner here.”

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