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New Deck Tavern reopened on June 17 as Philadelphia entered the ‘yellow’ phase.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

In late March, restaurants throughout Philadelphia were forced to close in accordance with the city's efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus. With a fully stocked pantry and no one to serve, New Deck Tavern General Manager Erin Parson donated more than 80 pounds of untouched food to the public charity Ronald McDonald House. 

“Thank you so much, but I’m sorry,” the Ronald McDonald House volunteer told Parson as she received the boxes of meat and poultry: 40 pounds of corn beef, 40 pounds of burgers, and a couple of enormous turkeys. 

Before the pandemic hit the U.S., New Deck had stocked up for their busiest time of the year, Saint Patrick’s Day. On March 15, the day of Philadelphia’s annual Saint Patrick’s Day parade, the whole restaurant was booked. But that afternoon, Governor Tom Wolf announced a two-week shutdown for all non-essential businesses in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

The New Deck staff canceled all evening reservations which accounted for over 150 people. At the time, Parson said she never would have thought that it would take three months before the restaurant could reopen.

The restaurant made zero revenue for three months while Parson planned how the restaurant would operate in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. New Deck reopened on June 17 as the city entered the ‘yellow’ phase which permits restaurants to serve people on its outdoor patio with tables placed six feet apart.

A full house at New Deck now means 30 customers, as opposed to the restaurant’s typical peak number of 175. 

Parson said despite serving at the new full occupancy during the lunch rush and happy hour, the opening day’s revenue was a mere 25% of what a typical summer Wednesday would look like in sales. 

“It's kind of a breeze when you’re used to running and operating a restaurant that does triple what we did today,” Parson said.

To encourage proper social distancing, New Deck has placed shamrock stickers on the floor indicating where customers should stand, installed a large plexiglass partition on the bar to protect the bartenders, and printed several one-touch paper menus. Staff must wear masks at all times, Parson said.

New Deck's bartender Sharon Kennedy — whom Parson calls “the legend of the New Deck” because she has worked at the restaurant since 1986 — said she has typically taken only one week off each year to visit her mother in Ireland since she began working at New Deck. Now, Kennedy has been temporarily unemployed since March 15. 

Kennedy applied for unemployment benefits during the first week of April when Wolf’s mandate was extended beyond the original two-week timeline in mid-March.

Kennedy said it was eight weeks and over 800 calls before she received a delayed lump sum for her many weeks of unemployment.

Parson added that some New Deck employees without computers came to the bar and completed their unemployment applications with her help. One of the bartenders waited over 90 days before receiving any news about his unemployment benefits, Parson said.

After three months, Parson said she is relieved to get everyone back to work. On Thursday, New Deck featured live music for happy hour, attracting such a large crowd that staff had to set up additional pop-up tables in parking spaces across the street, Parson said.

The restaurant plans to open three days a week indefinitely with a limited menu. Parson said they have had to consider even the smallest changes, such as reducing their salad options from seven to four variations all using the same lettuce base to conserve produce while business remains slower than usual.

“You could never be successful at operating a business at this capacity,” Parson said, adding that she is looking forward to having indoor seating again.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced Philadelphia is on track to enter the ‘green’ phase of reopening by early July. This stage will permit restaurants to begin indoor seating with limited capacity. 

Parson and Kennedy said they will certainly raise a glass to that. 

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