Oswego restaurants still feeling effects of pandemic

Local restaurants were greatly impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the lack of in-person dining and struggling to get supplies, and they’re still feeling the effects two years later.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced all non-essential businesses to close their doors to the public two years ago, causing restaurants to offer take-out only services to their customers.

Nick Canale, the owner of Canale’s Restaurant, and Ally Scanlon, the manager of The Press Box, both kept their restaurants open and offered take-out and delivery during the early stages of the pandemic.

The two restaurants are currently facing similar issues. It’s hard for them to find staff because of increased unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

“The hardest part to deal with throughout the whole thing has been staffing,” Canale said. They’ve had to increase wages, which drove up menu prices.

“It’s harder to keep employees than it was before,” Scanlon said. They’ve had to hire more people at The Press Box because they’ve been getting busier, but it’s hard to keep people for more than a few weeks.

Another issue both restaurants are still facing is distributing. They’ve had to cut some menu items because they can’t get them from their distributors.

“We’re having a big issue from our distributors. They can’t get the products, so we can’t get the products,” Scanlon said. The Press Box has been out of loaded potato skins for six months.

“I don’t know how permanent it is, but it’s harder to get ingredients for recipes and things like that,” Canale said. “We’re much more flexible in what we do these days and how we get things done.”

The pandemic introduced many challenges restaurant owners had never had to face before. Canale said they had to close and restructure twice during the first few months of the pandemic.

“It was challenging because some employees wanted to work, some of them didn’t,” Canale said. “Take out became busier than it normally was because no one could go out to eat, so we transitioned some employees from the dining room to the take-out and delivery department.”

The employees weren’t prepared for the amount of business going to the take-out department, causing mistakes to be made, Canale said.

The Press Box faced a similar situation with their take-out and delivery services getting many more orders than they were used to.

“We ended up adjusting out hours, because we were originally open from 11-9, which was our normal hours,” Scanlon said. “We ended up being open from 4-8, and we’d do about a day’s worth of business in that time.”

As soon as the governor allowed restaurants to open outdoor seating, both Canale’s Restaurant and The Press Box did. People felt safer and more comfortable sitting outside than inside, Canale said.

“We have a much larger focus on outdoor dining. We added this deck with another 45 seats last summer,” Canale said.

The Press Box offered a “take-out to dine in” service where they would allow customers to order their meals as take-out, and they could sit outside and eat it, Scanlon said. The employees would then clear the tables when they left.

Increasing outdoor dining is one of the many changes these restaurants have implemented since they were told they could reopen their dining rooms.

It took a while for the normal number of customers to start dining in, Canale said. However, once summer hit, they were overwhelmed with customers.

“In summer of 2021, we ended up having to go only six days a week because it was so busy and we didn’t have enough employees to staff all seven days and handle the amount of people that were coming out,” Canale said.

Scanlon said 2020 was their busiest summer they’ve ever had, followed by 2021 being even busier. People were finally ready to come back.

The Press Box is still seeing a large number of take-out orders. “We’re seeing a lot more prepping on out end, to-go wise, having everything prepared quickly and ready to box up,” Scanlon said.

Canale’s Restaurant and The Press Box are no longer requiring their customers to wear masks. Both Canale and Scanlon said that as soon as they governor approves something, they do it.

Both restaurants are taking the extra step to keep the area clean and space out customers and employees in a way that makes everyone more comfortable.

“Some people have been a little more on edge than they would have been in the past, but for the most part, the customers have been wonderful for us and the staff,” Canale said.