The Restaurant Ruins – 8.24.20

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Everybody has lost a favorite restaurant or destination in this panic.

Actually, we all know any number of places that have gone out of business in these last five months. But most of us have one place that we’re missing more than the others.

For me it’s White’s Bakery and Café in Wellesley. I was thinking about White’s again yesterday – it was walking distance from my home, a nice walk on a perfect weekend morning like yesterday.

I could go there, get a blueberry muffin or a cheese Danish and a coffee. Afterwards, I could grab some take-out prepared deli-type foods – stuffed peppers, shrimp salad, etc. – for good eating all week long.

But now White’s is gone, so yesterday I got my exercise by walking instead to Whole Foods, mask capital of the world. No Danishes, no fresh chocolate-chip cookies, no fun….

It’s strange that I should miss White’s so much, since it only opened last year. But until March it was doing quite well, offering more traditional baked options than Wellesley’s other popular bakery, Quebrada.

The original White’s is in Brockton, and they still have other locations open in Hingham and Mansfield. But I guess Wellesley was the furthest away from the mother ship, and probably the rent was higher.

After martial law was imposed in March, White’s doggedly hung in for a while, saying they’d reopen – remember how Gov. Charlie Parker said only two weeks would be needed to “flatten the curve?” But as the hysteria dragged on, White’s had to make a decision, and I guess it was a business variation on last-hired-first-fired.

Or maybe the Wellesley outlet was the runt of the White’s litter. We’ve seen a lot of that phenomenon during Charlie Parker’s Lockdown. The Chateau lives on in Waltham and Norwood and elsewhere, but the Westborough location is kaput.

I know the Fuddrucker’s in Saugus, but I never knew there was one in Methuen until there wasn’t. They pulled the plug.

I always meant to stop by Abbott’s Frozen Custard in Brighton, only drove by it about a million times. Now it’s too late, and I’m never near any of their other locations.

The Peet’s Coffee in Wellesley survived, but not the one in Sudbury.

If you go to any of the several websites that are chronicling the ongoing demise of the restaurant/hospitality industry in Massachusetts, you’ll probably find yourself recalling memorable moments in places that you never thought wouldn’t be there, but are now suddenly vanished forever.

Think Isaac’s in Plymouth, or the Cantab Lounge in Central Square, Cambridge.

Or the Regina’s Pizzeria branch in the old Allston Depot.

Remember the late Anthony Bourdain? One day he was shooting one of his segments in my old radio studio in Brighton – he asked me for a great Boston sandwich suggestion, and I mentioned Michael’s Deli in Coolidge Corner, which has survived, thank goodness. (Get a $25 gift certificate to Michael’s for $12.50 at my store.)

After we did the shoot, Bourdain was ready to unwind.

“I want some local beer,” he said to me. “I’ve been wanting to try to Narragansett draft. You know where I can get some?”

I sure did – the Allston Depot, er Regina’s Pizzeria. And it was only three minutes away from the station.

My show used to have giveaways from Hearth & Kettle and Bickford’s. When one of the listeners would win a $25 certificate to Bickford’s, I’d always yell out, “You’re going to Bickford’s!”

Not anymore they aren’t, at least not to the one in Acton. Or to the Hearth & Kettle in Weymouth.

Fleming’s Steakhouse in Park Square wasn’t the fanciest steak joint in the world, but it was decent, and we had trade there too. As I always say, my favorite food is free food!

Of course restaurants are always going out of business. Capitalism is creative destruction, and even before the Panic, some of Boston’s more memorable places had recently bitten the dust. F. J. Doyle’s in Jamaica Plain (owners cashing out), Anthony’s Pier 4 (real estate), the No Name (the perils of third-generation ownership) – that’s the life they’ve chosen.

But this year’s carnage seems so random, so unnecessary. Take Flat Top Johnny’s, a “sprawling” pool hall-type pub in Kendall Square, Cambridge. Like so many others, they tried to hang on, but apparently pool halls are a hotbed of the virus, or so says the state’s corrupt Department of Public Health.

So they weren’t allowed to fully reopen until Phase 4, which means never in Charlie Parker’s authoritarian Reich.

Say goodnight, Flat Top Johnny’s.

For those of you keeping score at home, the Encore Casino in Everett is open again, complete with shootings and stabbings. Apparently the virus doesn’t like games of chance. But a pool hall – nosireebob. Same with arcades – pinball machines are death traps, but slot machines are totally sanitary.

(Maybe it’s that 25 percent casino tax rate that immunizes Encore and MGM so much more than arcades, just like vaping became a healthy pastime again once the state taxes were jacked up to, what, 75 percent.)

McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants have been open all along, just like Walmart and Target. But places with the word “Diner” or “Tavern” in their names – they’ve been decimated.

Mom & Pop just don’t donate enough to the right hacks on Beacon Hill, I guess.

Some of the state’s American Legion and VFW posts are likewise already gone. They survived on events – receptions, reunions, etc. – and on their bars. But inside gatherings are still largely verboten, unless your last name is Polito.

As for bars, they’re shut down forever. According to the governor’s “metrics,” the virus spreads in taprooms, but not at teachers’ union protests on Beacon Street.

None of it makes any sense. You can’t try on clothes in a changing room in a department store, but you can take them home. (What if you live in a nursing home?)

You and the rest of your golf foursome can ride together to a course in a closed-up car, but once you’re there and outside, you have to use separate golf carts. When you’re out on the greens, you can buy a 12-oz. canned soft drink from the girl in the cart, but not a 12-oz. Bud Light in an identical can.

Riots and looting are peaceful protests, but Little League games can be lethal. Ripping down statues of Christopher Columbus – no problem. Funerals and weddings – fuhgeddaboutit!

A lot of the restaurant owners, especially those with more than one location, are saying all the right things about trying to reopen sometime in a future that seems ever more distant. But seriously… c’mon.

Look at Canal Street in the West End, across from the Garden. Two restaurants went under last week – Rustico, which was described as a “hidden gem” that was “under the radar screen.” The other was Popover King. Another Canal Street eatery had already folded – Mulligan’s.

Think about the foot traffic on Canal Street. The restaurants have (had?) two sources of customers: the daily rail commuters coming into the city through North Station, and at night, the crowds going to games and concerts at the Garden.

Do you see either commuters or sports fans returning anytime soon to the city? It’s about as likely as conventions coming back.

There is, or was, another well-known place on Canal Street, a dive bar named Sullivan’s Tap. The bar ran the length of the block – “Boston’s Longest Bar” – and their go-to beer was 16-oz. longneck Rupert Knickerbockers. What’s the future of Sully’s Tap?

And what’s going to happen to Quincy Market? Durgin Park was already defunct, and now both Dick’s Last Resort and Cheers are gone. Tom Kershaw said he couldn’t get a break on the rent from his landlords, and he’s not the only one who’s been unable to negotiate survivable terms in this “new normal.”

What’s takeout and curbside amount to at most places – maybe 25, 30 percent tops. If a restaurant has access to outdoor service, a patio or maybe a parking lot, perhaps the outside tables can compensate for some of the lost space inside.

But it’s almost Labor Day. Winter is coming. What is everybody supposed to do then?

Next door in New Hampshire, the restaurant owners pointed out this intractable dilemma to Gov. Chris Sununu. Last week he relented and now the restaurants are open again inside, with some restrictions. (Get a $50 gift certificate to White Birch Brewing in Nashua for $25 at our store.)

But here in Massachusetts, state and local governments seem determined to destroy the economy, starting with restaurants. Tall Deval presides over the state with both the worst unemployment rate and the third highest death toll per capita in the nation – and he thinks he’s doing a fantastic job.

If I were a restaurant owner, I wouldn’t go into the State House to meet with Tall Deval unless I were wearing a white lab coat and a stethoscope (that would make me one of the “folks” he listens to, no matter how preposterous their suggestions).

Also, I would bring a checkbook – after all, the nursing homes paid the governor $52,000-plus and they get a total free pass.

Think about it – 5700 dead in MA nursing homes (of the 8600 total), and they never, ever get lectured, hectored, harangued etc. by Charlie Parker. But the restaurants – his Mask Police will hunt you down if you dare to serve alcohol with a bag of pretzels or potato chips (are potato chips deep-fried on premises permissible to be served, Governor?)

I’m starting to get hungry. Wish I had a piece of White’s carrot cake right about now. But no, I live in Maskachusetts.

(If you own/manage a restaurant in New England and would like to take part in our no-cash Cheap Bastard Deals on the Howie Carr Show, email [email protected] for more information.)

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