PEABODY — Brodie’s Pub probably wouldn’t have survived the pandemic if it weren’t for the city’s outdoor dining initiative, said Amy Shairs, the restaurant's general manager.
“If we were not given permission to use that space, I'm not sure what we would've done,” she said, referencing the area to the side of the restaurant which is usually left vacant. “It was our lifeline.”
On Thursday, the city decided to extend that lifeline through the end of the year.
On Feb. 25, the City Council voted unanimously in favor of Mayor Ted Bettencourt’s request to extend the city’s outdoor dining initiative until Dec. 31, 2021. The initiative was previously approved to continue until April 1.
“This extension will allow for added flexibility for the 18 approved restaurants during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” Bettencourt said in his request.
Shairs said the decision is a huge weight off of Brodie's managements' shoulders.
“That is a huge relief, even if we went back to full capacity, this allows us to make up for the lost revenue this winter and this year,” she said. “It has also brought in so many new people. We’ve become relevant to more people in the community.”
Bettencourt said the decision was made after several internal discussions with city staff and with local restaurants.
“With so much uncertainty about how this year is going to go, I didn't want it to be hanging over restaurants’ heads,” he said. “We want to make every effort to help those restaurants continue to succeed through these coming months, no matter what happens.”
Bettencourt added he thinks the decision will help restaurants decide whether or not to invest in outdoor dining spaces.
"I thought it would be better for planning purposes,” he said. “It can give them some peace of mind that this won't be reviewed every few months.”
Bettencourt previously said the outdoor dining program put in place during the pandemic allows businesses like Brodie’s to set up seating, tents, and other necessities for al fresco dining in spaces previously required to remain unoccupied under zoning laws.
“We’ve always had that concern that the city could very well tell us to take (the outdoor dining setup) down tomorrow, and that would be a huge blow,” Shairs said.
Shairs said the decision to extend the program could also create jobs at Brodie’s and other restaurants.
“We went from a staff of eight servers and bartenders last year to 20 this summer,” she said, adding that the restaurant also hired hostesses for the first time.
Shairs said she would support the outdoor dining program becoming permanent.
“We are thrilled looking forward, and all of our customers are looking forward to it,” she said. “It gave people an opportunity to be with friends and family in a safe environment.”
During the Feb. 25 meeting, Councilor Ed Charest asked the council to at some point consider making the program permanent.
“Can we ask the mayor to look into having this more permanent instead of a temporary kicking the can down?” he asked. “I think we see this work and we see the benefits of it.”
Other local restaurant owners said they supported the city’s decision to extend outdoor dining through the rest of the year.
Cody Tremblay, the owner of Sylvan Street Grille, said he is excited about the decision.
“It is excellent news,” he said, explaining that even though Sylvan Street Grille always had outdoor seating, it expanded during the pandemic. “I was planning on resetting up the tent itself, but I knew there was a question mark.”
Tremblay said the city making this call so early on will be extremely helpful for numerous businesses looking to make plans for this coming year.
“We've gotten a lot of information in the past year with very short notice,” he said, “That make is difficult to source different items, i.e. tents, seating, patio tables, hand sanitizer. Notice always comes within a week of whatever is happening., so giving restaurants this additional time to source products and materials which have become hard to come by, the more information we know ahead of time the better.”
Staff writer Erin Nolan can be reached at 978-338-2534, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @erin_nolan_.