What It's Like to Close Your Restaurant Amid Pandemic

Gabrielle Hamilton of Prune in Manhattan wonders whether she'll reopen again
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2020 3:58 PM CDT
What It's Like to Close Your Restaurant Amid Pandemic
This undated photo provided by Penguin Random House shows Gabrielle Hamilton. The photo is for Hamilton’s cookbook, “Prune,” named after her Manhattan eatery, which came out in 2014.   (AP Photo/Penguin Random House)

Gabrielle Hamilton has shuttered her Manhattan restaurant, Prune, amid the pandemic, but the doors will reopen when things are back to normal, right? We'll see. In a first-person account in the New York Times Magazine (where she is an Eat columnist), Hamilton takes readers through every wrenching step of this process, starting with the decision to close (just ahead of the city shutdown) and lay off her 30 employees. She arranged Prune's tight finances to get everyone one last paycheck and encouraged them all to apply for unemployment the next morning. Amid this came gestures that made her cry, like former employees phoning in (and paying for) orders they wouldn't eat, their butcher asking not whether he'd be paid but what they needed for their own homes, and locals making heart-shaped gestures as they walked by.

Prune has survived other shutdowns in its 20 years, including for 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, and always bounced back. Hamilton doesn't sound so sure this time. "For now, "I’m going to let the restaurant sleep, like the beauty she is, shallow breathing, dormant. Bills unpaid. And see what she looks like when she wakes up—so well rested, young all over again, in a city that may no longer recognize her, want her or need her." If it does reopen, regulars can expect changes. "It’s no mystery why this prolonged isolation has made me find the tiny 24-square-inch tables that I’ve been cramming my food and my customers into for 20 years suddenly repellent," she writes. "I want round tables, big tables, six-people tables, eight-tops." The essay touches on a range of topics, from her early dreams for the restaurant, to the logistics of applying for help in the pandemic, to the radically changing restaurant industry even before all this happened. Read it here. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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