Snow spiked business for some restaurants, shuttered others

Blizzard meant business for some Baltimore restaurants and bars, while others were forced to shut down

Station North Arts Cafe was so busy over the weekend that the restaurant had to turn customers away — in the middle of the blizzard.

Packed to the brim with nearby residents, the cafe at 1816 N. Charles St. was one of the businesses that stayed open through the storm Saturday, offering a haven from the historic snowfall and a place for fellowship among customers who came through its doors.

The blizzard was good business for the cafe, while other restaurants and bars lost revenue as they closed early or altogether while more than 2 feet of snow bore down on the Baltimore area. Many that stayed open offered deals to draw diners. A number of establishments participating in Baltimore City and Baltimore County Restaurant Weeks are extending the promotions, whose impact was blunted by the storm.

Station North Arts Cafe was able to maintain its normal hours Saturday — it typically closes at 3 p.m.

"This has become a cultural canopy, and everyone took refuge under our little tent," said co-owner Kevin Brown. "It was a big community embrace."

Brown estimated business at the cafe was up by 12 percent over the weekend. The start of the year is an otherwise slow period for restaurants.

"This was a great help," he said.

Others weren't as lucky. Bars and restaurants such as the Brewer's Art scaled back their hours or closed entirely. The Mount Vernon brewpub was closed all day Saturday for the safety of employees and potential patrons.

"When you lose a whole weekend, it's kind of a hit on the cash-flow front," co-owner Volker Stewart said, noting tipped employees were hit the hardest.

The restaurant had several seatings' worth of reservations booked Friday and Saturday, but by the time the storm hit Friday, they were nearly all canceled.

"We did the equivalent of ... a Wednesday night on a Friday night," Stewart said.

Grand Cru in Belvedere Square Market also adjusted its hours to keep employees safe. The bar closed about 9 p.m. Saturday after offering $1 off guests' checks for every inch of snow on the ground. The deal, which applied to any check over $30, started at noon, when about 14 inches had fallen, and they cut it off at 8:30 p.m. at 23 inches. A number of bars and restaurants across the city offered snow-day specials throughout the weekend to get customers out of their homes and into their establishments.

Grand Cru bar manager Chris Jennings said the dollar-per-inch promotion drew customers during the day, but the crowd tapered off as the evening went on.

"We just wanted to have people in. We just wanted to provide a nice community center," Jennings said.

Friday's launch of Baltimore Winter Restaurant Week coincided with the start of the snowstorm, so some restaurants, like the Boathouse Canton, began offering their prix-fixe promotions a day early. The Canton restaurant also had happy-hour pricing throughout the weekend to lure customers, but general manager Chris Golder said the weekend business was slower than he would have liked.

"We saw a little bit of people, mostly the families from Tindeco [Wharf] and the other local areas," Golder said. "At the end of the day, it's about building relationships with neighbors."

The Boathouse Canton remained open all weekend with adjusted hours and a limited menu because so few staff members were able to make it to work. On Sunday, one server was taking care of a dining room that was about 80 percent full.

"We're slowly getting everybody back in, but the secondary and third streets still have a lot of our staff snowed in," Golder said.

As of Monday, about 80 restaurants had pledged to extend their Restaurant Week deals beyond Jan. 31. Mike Evitts, a spokesman for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, said his organization along with Visit Baltimore would release more details about the extensions Tuesday.

The storm also fell in the middle of Baltimore County's Restaurant Week, which was scheduled for Jan. 15-30. More than half the 58 restaurants participating in the county's promotion will continue to offer their Restaurant Week menu through Feb. 6.

Stewart of the Brewer's Art hopes Restaurant Week helps local restaurants rebound from losses during the storm. His restaurant has strong bookings lined up for the remainder of the week, and he said he thinks that will help the restaurant recover. The Brewer's Art also plans to take advantage of the chance to extend its prix-fixe offerings.

"It's a bit of a drag because it makes things really, really busy," Golder said of Restaurant Week. "But on the other hand, it's great because it makes things really busy."

smeehan@baltsun.com

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