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Harford restaurants are adapting amid coronavirus pandemic and shutdown; some worry about long-term survival

Box Hill Pizzeria employee Shawn Smith prepares a carry-out order of the Abingdon restaurant's famous crab cakes Friday afternoon. The restaurant, like many in the area are open for carry-out or delivery.
Box Hill Pizzeria employee Shawn Smith prepares a carry-out order of the Abingdon restaurant's famous crab cakes Friday afternoon. The restaurant, like many in the area are open for carry-out or delivery. (Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Box Hill Pizzeria in Abingdon, known for its crab cakes and New England style pizza, has been in business in Harford County for more than three decades. The impact of the new coronavirus on restaurants is something owner Tom Kanaras and others haven’t experienced before.

"We have been through two recessions. We have been here 35 years and we have never had to lose anybody,” Kanaras said Friday. “At this point, we are just trying to cover the payroll — making sure, at least, everybody can survive.”

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In accordance with Gov. Larry Hogan’s order, the Box Hill closed its dining room March 16, but has been offering curbside pick-up options to hungry customers, though at a great loss to business, Kanaras said. The restaurant is maintaining normal hours but not serving alcohol. Orders can be placed online or over the phone.

Kanaras said the closure has hit his business and staff hard. Some of his employees have worked at the storied restaurant for 20 or more years, and he wants to keep them afloat during these challenging times.

To keep as many of his workers employed as he can, Kanaras is spreading hours between those he can so everybody at least gets some work.

Customers have offered compassionate messages to the restaurant and those who are out of work or have been affected by the spread of COVID-19, Kanaras said. He feels responsible for his workers’ well-being and thanked customers for their support.

"It is a time for faith and hope and sticking together,” he said. “It is scary, and I don’t have any answers."

That uncertainty isn’t lost on other Harford County restaurateurs, some of whom wonder how long they can survive in the current climate.

Lou Ward, owner of The Bayou Restaurant in Havre de Grace, said business has “improved a little bit each day,” since the restaurant had to close its dining room and move to a carryout model, but they’ve already lost a lot of perishable items and doesn’t plan to purchase new items, fearing closure and losing product.

“We’ll see how things go,” he said.

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Some places have innovated in order to keep business afloat. Two Havre de Grace restaurants, Coakley’s Pub and River City Public House, have teamed up to offer a “Pub on the Run” at Hutchins Park, using the Laurrapin catering trailer as a food truck, opening at noon for walk-up business.

Bruce Clarke, the owner of the recently opened River City and Laurrapin Caterers, said “by no means do I want to be a food truck business,” but with the catering business on hold, “we thought we’d put the catering trailer to use and kind of help get us through this.”

The two businesses were given a week by the city’s mayor, William T. Martin, to try out the experiment, as long as people were not congregating and were practicing social distancing.

“The city has been over the top supportive of everyone, every business in town, including us in doing something remote like this,” said Will Nori, restaurateur of Coakley’s Pub. “It’s been steady, people are minding the social distancing. We have a sign posted and people are standing six feet apart. We’ve never had a huge line of people, but I’d say we’ve been steady.”

Nori said they’ve been fortunate to be able to move their product and not throw food away.

"If we go further with this into a lockdown situation, we're gonna try and make a hard press to prepare a bunch of food and then reach out to some of the unfortunate people in the community,” he said. “Just give meals to people … we can try to take care of the people here in Havre de Grace."

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Both River City and Coakley’s are offering carry-out orders by phone. River City is hoping to add online delivery next week.

"If we could double our carry-out business, we will be fine,” general manager David Vazquez said.

Others are less optimistic about their long-term survival.

Joe Borkoski, whose wife Wendy owns Eats & Sweets in Pylesville, said the restaurant was offering pick-up and carry-out options for customers and considering adding curbside pickup.

Their situation, Borkoski said, is rough. Usually, the restaurant ends every other Friday with 20 names on its payroll; this next pay period, however, will only have three.

"If it is beyond this month, I mean, we will probably have to file bankruptcy and close the doors," Borkoski said.

Thankfully, most of the eatery's workers were not reliant on the paycheck the received from the shop, and Borkoski scheduled two older workers who needed the money to continue working during the coronavirus spread. He and his wife are not drawing a paycheck, and their daughter is also working in the restaurant.

Borkoski said the restaurant has lost approximately 65% to 75% of its normal business — one day pulling in less than $300 over the full day. Support from the community has been encouraging, he said, but it can only help so much.

"The community can only help us out so much," he said. "If this keeps on going, the community is going to be in the same situation we are in."

Scott Opdyke, general manager of The Lodge in Hickory, said if the shutdown of Maryland eateries continues, the restaurant would be unsustainable between the costs of doing business, the lease on the building, payroll and other expenses.

"I have had to lay off about 40 people," he said softly, "people that have worked here a decade."

The restaurant is running on truncated hours — 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays — Opdyke said, and management is trying to keep as many people working as possible. The restaurant is offering carryout and delivery of food, beer and wine. It did not previously deliver, Opdyke said.

"We are just trying to keep as many as we can working,” he said. "The community has been very generous with their gratuity, their tips, so it has been really nice.”

Still, business has plummeted, Opdyke said; the restaurant is doing about 17% of the business it normally would do. The management could not predict the precipitous decline.

"A few of us had a gut feeling that this is going to get pretty ugly ... none of us have ever seen anything like this,” he said.

Opdyke asked for the community’s continued patronage as the restaurant negotiates the pandemic.

“Everybody in the country just bought six months of toilet paper and groceries,” he said. “We are just doing what we can here.”

At Alecraft brewery in downtown Bel Air, co-owner Eryn Streett sat at a table in the nearly empty taproom Friday afternoon. She was putting together a customer newsletter with the latest updates on coronavirus and its impact on AleCraft, while watching CNN on a nearby wall-mounted television blaring news about the pandemic.

Beer-tender Deana Fornoff was behind the bar, helping customers as they purchased beer in to-go cans. People cannot sit in the taproom and drink a pint, but they can pick up to-go orders, according to Streett.

Bel Air resident Colin Mitchell came in to purchase a four-pack of beer.

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“I enjoy their beer,” he said of AleCraft. “I usually try to get here once a week to come to the tap room for a few, but you can’t do that right now, so I wanted to come get some to-go beer.”


Alecraft’s taproom at 319 S. Main St., which is in the same building as Preston’s Stationery, has been closed to the public since 5 p.m. Monday, in accordance with the governor’s order, but customers can visit from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and purchase beer in a four-pack of to-go cans, or get their growler bottles and crowler cans filled.

Beer is still being brewed at AleCraft, but “we’ve just been canning all of the beer for to-go sales,” Streett said.

The owners are developing a page where people can place orders online — customers can purchase gift cards online now.

In addition to the taproom and brewery, the building also houses a shop for homebrewing supplies — the Streetts started their homebrew supply operation in 2013.

Many customers have been coming in to purchase homebrew supplies in anticipation of a long stay at home to avoid spreading the virus. Some are teachers who expect they will not return to school for the rest of the current semester, according to Streett.

She noted regular customers have been placing orders “to help support us,” so the owners can keep paying their employees while they run with a limited staff.


A customer leaves the Savona Restaurant on Main Street in Bel Air Friday after picking up his carry-out order. The restaurant, like many in the area are open for carry-out.
A customer leaves the Savona Restaurant on Main Street in Bel Air Friday after picking up his carry-out order. The restaurant, like many in the area are open for carry-out.(Matt Button / The Aegis/Baltimore Sun Media)

Adrienne DeRan, of Pylesville, stopped into Savona bistro on Main Street in Bel Air on Friday afternoon to pick up a drink and some pizza sauce, planning to make pizza for her daughter’s seventh birthday on Saturday. She had to cancel the birthday party planned for her daughter because people cannot get together in large groups.

“She wants to have pizza, so we’ll make it happen,” DeRan said.

Savona, which will celebrate its 15th anniversary in June, is known for its Italian food and wine.

Owner Maria DeRan she could not purchase her desired cans of Don Pepino pizza sauce, pointing out two cans resting on the counter which were the last she had in stock, and those had been reserved for another customer. DeRan ended up getting a can of Pepino’s spaghetti sauce instead.

"If we want our local businesses to be around, we need to support them, and we appreciate you guys for being here and being open,” she told Boeri.

Boeri became emotional as DeRan stressed how such businesses are a crucial community resource. “It’s a resource, truly,” DeRan said.

Savona customers can get orders to go, either by picking them up in the store or an employee will bring orders to their vehicle at the curb; they can place orders online through services such as Grubhub and DoorDash. Boeri said she is “not really” participating in deliveries of alcoholic beverages now, but customers have been purchasing cases of wine available in store.

“People have been so supportive,” said Boeri, who became emotional when talking about how the community has rallied to support her and other Bel Air business owners. “People come in and say, ‘We want to buy a case of wine to support small businesses.'"

Customers have purchased other items in bulk such as bread, produce and Savona’s famed meatballs in frozen packages.

“People are hunkering down, and it’s an easy meal,” Boeri said of the meatballs.

Boeri lamented how she has not been able to hug or shake hands with anyone other than family members as people try to maintain personal space. She recalled one customer sending her an email about purchasing gift certificates.

“I emailed him back and said, ‘I have a hug waiting for you when I can,’” she said.

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