Many of us watched the final moments of 2019 unfold with gusto, antsy at the thought of a new decade. few could have predicted that the start of 2020 would be roaring not with decadence and excitement, but rather with disease and fear.
COVID-19 has proved to be a devastating threat to public life and public health, effecting every corner of the globe. It’s no secret that the restaurant industry, and the thousands of individuals employed through it, was struck particularly hard.
On March 16th, the day before Saint Patrick’s Day, Governor Sununu announced restaurants would no longer be allowed to offer dine-in service as of March 17th. It was a necessary step to help curtail the virus, but the effects are impossible to ignore.
Concerns about COVID-19 resulted in downticks in restaurant dine-ins throughout the month of March, but this announcement put such service to a screeching halt in the granite state. Four days after the announcement, the National Restaurant Industry (AKA, you guessed it, the NRA) estimated $225 billion in losses and at least five million lost jobs nationally.
Restaurant owners had to ask themselves- and their staff- a serious question: Do we stay open and offer takeout and/or delivery or do we close? Gary Kim, owner of Mr. Kim’s in Portsmouth, found himself asking that very question.
“Once the WHO (World Health Organization) had declared it a global pandemic and the CDC had expressed concern for the country I realized it was only a matter of time until we would begin to feel the effects here in the seacoast. It felt surreal,” said Kim.
Kim made the difficult decision not to offer takeout or delivery and instead closed the restaurant. He came to this conclusion with the health of the public in mind.
“The priority was the health & safety of my staff and community. I wanted to see how things would develop rather than try to figure out how to navigate as everything escalated and was happening real time.”
When Kim opened the doors in may of 2019, he aimed to share his culinary experiences with the Portsmouth community. This translated to a concise yet well-thought out menu of Asian Fusion dishes that won over the city.
The flavors and techniques Kim was exposed to as a child and throughout his career were put on full display. During my first visit I became particularly obsessed with their Carrot Mochi.
“I grew up in Portsmouth [and I] attended high school here. After spending several years away from the Seacoast, I naturally gravitated back to this area. I wanted to share all my experiences from traveling and felt I could still contribute to the dining landscape with my cooking,” said Kim.
With the peak of spring right around the corner, Portsmouth is usually beginning to undergo it’s perennial revitalization. People throughout New England flock here to bask in the scenery, eat well and meet up with others.
However, with the closure of non-essential businesses, uncertainties regarding COVID-19 and unseasonably cold temperatures, Portsmouth seems to have gone comatose. Many of the small businesses that inspired the city’s slogan “A Tiny Bit Huge” are closed, whether by choice or not.
On April 28th, after several weeks of unprecedented closure, Mr. Kim’s reopened for curbside takeout. Kim’s decision was propelled by the belief that best way to increase positiveness in his community was to provide comfort in the form of a nourishing meal.
“My job is to nourish people so that was driving force to get things reopened. Small restaurants and businesses are the heart of the community. We have to do what we can to keep things positive and adapt to our current landscape.”
The restaurant now offers a condensed menu of dishes ranging from Korean barbecue beef with rice and kimchi to vegan Pad Thai with tofu, pineapple and Thai herbs. Simply order and pay over the phone, call when you arrive and pick up your food at the table in front of the entrance.
The future of the restaurant industry remains uncertain. Some establishments have already made the torturous decision to close their doors for good, and others will follow. Most restaurants operate under razor-thin margins that make them especially vulnerable to unforeseen circumstances. For many local eateries, it will be impossible to recover from the financial burden this pandemic spawned.
This is why it’s so important to support the independent restaurants in your community that have remained open. If you’re financially stable and healthy, order curbside takeout and leave a tip. Order a gift card online. Send your best wishes to the staff. They’re small yet notable steps toward recovery for the industry.
Kim really summed it up better than I ever could.
“Small restaurants and businesses play such an integral role in the community and the nation at large…We don’t want to live in a world where its just chain restaurants surviving this. Local places like us will have to fight to ensure our survival. The restaurant is my life and livelihood, there’s absolutely no way I’m going to let it fail. In the end, there will be balance and happier days ahead.”
Visit Mr. Kim’s at 107 State Street Portsmouth, NH. Temporary hours are Tuesday-Saturday; 4-8 P.M.