Two down. How many to go? Sad news in recent weeks, as we learned that Smith Street Diner and Southern Lights have been lost to the economic impact of the virus.
Smith Street Diner opened in 2005. Owner Beth Kizhnerman had also formerly owned Bistro Sofia, one of my highest rated fine dining restaurants. The diner earned praise from many points of view. A well-established local following looked forward not only to breakfast and lunch, but to Southern dinners as well. Southern Living magazine named it one of the South’s best diners in 2017.
I have credited Southern Lights with helping start Greensboro’s transition from a restaurant wasteland to a solid dining town. The restaurant began off Friendly Avenue, over 30 years ago. After the death of principal founder Peter Hamilton, chef-partner John Drees moved to the Lawndale Drive location, near the Kirkwood neighborhood. I have written about Southern Lights on many occasions over the years.
Awhile back, a lot of people seemed to think the virus problem was over. Probably, some still do. I have seen plenty of maskless faces in public. I thought that perspective was overly optimistic. I’m not a physician, but I have doctoral level training in research and statistics. To say that we’ve passed the peak, even if true, fails to comprehend what a peak is, at least in a statistical framework. A peak is a high point between two lower points. Visualizing that image reveals that there is just as much space after the peak as there is before the peak. In North Carolina, the data does not even support the interpretation that we are past the peak. On the contrary, the spread seems to be gaining on us.
The situation in which we find ourselves is medical, not political. We need to pay attention primarily to medical advice. The key is to avoid exposure in order to restrict the spread.
My focus in writing these columns, of course, is restaurants. So what do we do? A friend who has been in the business a long time recently asked me for advice. Close? Try to stick it out? I don’t know.
If you want to sit inside, by all means do it. Restaurants have set aside the appropriate distances. Outdoor seating is an excellent alternative. But keep in mind that everybody has “upped their game” regarding take out. Take out is still available. So do the best you can to provide some business, especially to locally owned places. Most locally owned restaurants operate, at best, on a month to month basis. They can’t survive if they don’t have some level of revenue. Maybe some won’t, anyway.
But let’s try to mitigate the impact. The solution is not in rash reopening and ignoring this insidious disease. We have to be careful. But we can still provide some degree of support. So go out and sit outdoors or sit far enough apart indoors and wear a mask to the extent it’s feasible. Or order takeout. But do something positive! And keep on doing it!
One bright note: the space formerly occupied by Table 16 will become a new restaurant, Lewis & Elm, later this month. Jake Assaf, certified sommelier and proprietor of Rioja! wine bar, will be at the helm. The restaurant will be wine-focused, with lighter food fare such as seasonal salads, sandwiches, duck prosciutto, mousse, caviar, and a selection of European cheeses chosen to pair with wines. Keep up with developments at lewisandelm.com, facebook.com/lewisandelm, or instagram.com/lewisandelm.