‘Uncharted Waters’: Mike’s Food & Spirits Navigates Ban on Dining-In

Photo by Jess Benjamin.

Mike’s Food & Spirits Owner Maria Terranova describes the staff at her restaurant as a family, with little turnover, and she says she hasn’t cut anyone’s hours in about 15 years. But as a small business owner dealing with the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and an order from Gov. Charlie Baker to limit all food service to delivery and take-out, that’s her only option.

Gov. Baker announced the ban on dining-in in all restaurants and bars on March 15, and the order went into effect two days later. 

Terranova employs around 30 hourly workers in total—including drivers, kitchen help, bartenders, bussers, and servers—and says that she has been scheduling three or four at a time this week. While Davis Square seemed to be running business as usual last week, she says she really started to feel the effects of the heightened social distancing on Sunday, March 15. 

“We’ve been in [Davis] Square for so many years,” she says. “We’ve been through so much, but this is just uncharted waters right now. … It wasn’t anticipated, it wasn’t prepared for.”

In addition to being concerned about her business’s future in the next few weeks, Terranova is worried about her tipped workers who rely on their tips and paychecks to pay rent. 

“My employees have fear in their eyes right now,” she says. “I’ve had my bussers in tears.”

However, like many other restaurants in the area, she’s wondering if it is worth it to even keep the doors open. Right now, she says she is trying to remain open for delivery and take-out more for her employees’ benefit rather than for her own. She anticipates that at a certain point, it will simply be costing her money to keep operating. 

“Is it cheaper to just shut the doors and close?” She asks. “Essentially, if you just stop business altogether, you don’t have the bills you would have for the next three weeks besides your fixed stuff. Payroll goes away, payroll taxes go away. There’s a lot of factors. To say, ‘You can be just open for takeout and delivery…’ It’s not that easy.”

Terranova is also worried about what would happen if the City of Somerville decided to shut down all non-essential business altogether, while surrounding cities did not—introducing an element of competition between her business and others in Somerville with those in Medford, for example. She hopes that a statewide shutdown would go into effect, rather than just a municipality-wide one. 

Mayor Joe Curtatone announced a citywide state of emergency in Somerville on March 15, and later added that all gyms, health clubs, theaters, entertainment venues, social clubs, and houses of worship will be closed through at least April 6. Currently, he has not announced plans to close restaurants completely. 

“We have more than 4,000 people working in the food service and accommodations industry in Somerville, so our community will be hit hard by these changes,” Curtatone said in a statement on March 15, in reference to Gov. Baker’s order to ban dining-in. “We wish we could tell people that some semblance of normalcy could avoid the most dire consequences, but it was crucial for the governor to take this step today. Unfortunately, the epidemiologists consulting with us are advising that social distancing is our only current defense against a mass contagion.”

Like many other businesses in the area, Terranova says she is looking for more guidance from the City and the state on what to do. In a survey conducted by the nearby Central Square Business Improvement District, 72 percent of business owners answered that they were waiting on direction from the city or state on whether or not to close. 

For now, her main priority is taking care of her employees as much as she is financially able to. 

“All my guys have been loyal to me for years,” she says. “I wouldn’t trade my staff for anything. We’ve built families together. We’ve had children together. We’ve seen each other through a lot.” 

To place and order for delivery or take-out from Mike’s Food & Spirits, visit their website at https://www.mikesondavis.com. 

To read more of Scout Somerville‘s coronavirus coverage, click here.

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About the Author

Lilly Milman
Lilly Milman is the managing editor at Scout Magazines. She started as an intern while attending Emerson College in downtown Boston, where she received a B.A. in Writing, Literature and Publishing.