Local restaurants are pivoting quickly to offer takeout and delivery, with some employees bucking instructions to practice social distancing as they provide meals for customers.

Bartender T.J. Holbrook, left, talks to customers who are picking up a lunchtime takeout order Friday at The Liberal Cup in Hallowell.

Even before last Wednesday, when Gov. Janet Mills ordered dining rooms at restaurants to close and recommended cancellation of all gatherings of more than 10 people, several central Maine eateries made the transition to delivery and takeout service.

Tobias Parkhurst, part of the ownership group for State Lunch and Cushnoc Brewing Co. in Augusta, said Cushnoc’s transition to delivery and takeout has been fairly graceful.

The brewery is delivering its beer along with its pizza because state rules allow delivery and takeout of sealed beer and wine.

“Beer and pizza delivery has a great ‘hunker down’ vibe to it,” Parkhurst said. “I think there’s some novelty to beer delivery.”

Parkhurst said some servers and front-of-house staff at both of his restaurants have become delivery drivers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Parkhurst said his delivery staff is making meaningful connections with customers who must hole up at their homes for the foreseeable future.

He said those connections might just be “the simple act of someone bringing you a meal.”

“Never in our history has there been a more isolating time for the people of Maine,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we’re making as many connections as we can.”

Maire Hayes, an outside sales representative now helping as a delivery driver, said her first day on the job was eventful — especially when a dog escaped from its home during a delivery.

“His dog ran out the door and I was running down the sidewalk trying to catch this pit bull,” Hayes said. “He tipped us on the phone, but he gave me and extra 10 and said, ‘Thank you.'”

Hayes said a crew of six or seven people — two taking orders, one sorting orders and the rest delivering — are handling more than 250 pizzas a day. She said each driver has a box of disinfecting wipes and gloves in his or her car that are used after every delivery.

Aly Cram, a bartender who is now part of the delivery team at State Lunch, said her new job is a big change from her normal position.

Cram said the weight of the outbreak hit her yesterday when a customer invited her onto the porch while she was making a delivery, which she politely declined. She said that some delivery customers may be experiencing their first human contact of the day or the past several days.

Aly Cram leaves State Lunch in downtown Augusta on Friday to deliver orders. After the state of Maine temporarily shut down sit-down dining at restaurants, State Lunch switched to takeout and delivery orders for food and beer.

“You’re trying to not be rude,” she said of maintaining a distance between herself and the customers. “It’s not just us exposing people to germs or (customers) also exposing us.

“I delivered to an older lady and she invited me in (and) I said, ‘No.’ She told me she had been ‘cooped up’ for a week and you could tell she wanted to talk.”

Cram said the restaurant is cleaned with bleach many times a day, and those picking up orders are only allowed into a small portion of the restaurant to grab their orders.

“It’s so surreal,” Cram said. “I never thought this would happen in our life time.”

State Lunch has also trimmed its menu and started offering larger, family-style meals, like mac ‘n’ cheese or other pasta dishes.

Parkhurst said the restaurant has also added more telephone lines so it can handle the increasing volume of orders.

“We’re not just going to make it through here,” he said. “We’re going to make it through stronger and better than before.”

Geoff Houghton, owner of The Liberal Cup in Hallowell, said he was considering a trimmed-down takeout menu. A scaled-back menu could save on food costs as restaurants look to cut costs in a time of financial uncertainty. He said the slimmer menu would focus on “stuff you can’t stock up on,” like salads, meats and comfort food.

Houghton said The Liberal Cup will also officer family-style menus based on the restaurant’s popular offerings, like pot roast and meat loaf, which he said would translate well to large portions.

Houghton also delivered meals himself during the first two days of takeout and delivery-only service, but said he would be canceling the delivery side to reduce strain on the company’s bottom line.

“Honestly, if I paid someone to be a delivery driver, I would’ve lost my shirt over the past couple of days,” he said Friday. “I think we’re going to focus on the takeout and curbside takeout.”

“I have a feeling that people might want an excuse to get out of their house and get into their car,” he said. “It could be a good compromise between social distance and getting some good food.”

Kyle Neilson, a mixologist The Oak Table & Bar in Augusta, said the restaurant is pivoting away from its upscale, small plates and craft cocktails and moving toward full-plate meals for takeout and delivery.

“An issue that we run into with the food we’re serving is its ability to transport,” he said. “I can’t show up with oysters on the half shell after 20 minutes. We can’t make smoked cocktails on people’s porches.”

Neilson said the full-plate meal reduces waste because the restaurant only offers about a dozen per day. The first meal, braised lamb shank, root mash, salad and rolls, was $25 for takeout or $30 for delivery.

“The key to it is doing it in limited quantity,” he said. “We can take a smaller margin and not be throwing anything away.”

Samantha Preshong, left, lifts a carhop tray Friday to the window of Sonny James’ truck at Hi-Hat Drive In in Farmingdale. After the state of Maine temporarily prohibited sit-down dining at restaurants last week, Hi-Hat switched to takeout and carhop service.

The first test runs of the full-plate meals were received well by customers, Neilson said, but the restaurant would have to boost production to remain viable for an extended amount of time.

Lindsay Costigan, owner of Lintonia Bar & Grill, said the changes in business have forced to lay off all of her staff, except for a kitchen manager and a delivery driver. She said she was still offering her full menu, but was considering changes as the outbreak continues.

“I would say that if things do change, I would have to change up my menu,” she said. “Long term, I would fear for what may happen.”

Costigan said her business has received a good amount of takeout and delivery business in recent days.

“I think the communities are really pulling together,” she said. “I’m happy with what I’m seeing.”

Gerard’s Pizza in Gardiner was closed Saturday. A note affixed to the door said it would be open when it was “safe to do so.”

Day’s Store in Belgrade Lakes is currently closed for work and renovations, but curbside pickup is expected to begin April 3, according to a sign at the store.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: