This is the fourth part in a series on how our local restaurants are navigating state regulations on health and safety concerning COVID-19. We are doing our best to be inclusive, but with so many restaurants, we may not be able to get to everyone.
However, we still want to hear your stories: How have regulations changed the way you do business? How has creative thinking made the best of your situation? Do you plan on making any permanent changes even when regulations ease? How can customers and the community help as you continue adapting to a new business model? To share your story, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Taka Mediterranean Bar and Grill continues to persevere through the COVID-19 pandemic as peak season waxes with roughly half the number of people dining out as in a normal season. Owners Ridvan Erman Celikel, Metehan Sahin and Alex Mackay said opening in late May was a no-brainer, but that did not mean they had a road map through the 2020 season.
“When this pandemic started, we were definitely having a hard time figuring out what we were going to do,” said Celikel. “Everything was new, other businesses were shut down. It was really hard to focus on the business, try to figure out the menu, try to figure out the employees.”
Since the restaurant was going into its second year, the trio was worried about whether or not they could salvage the season. However, once the doors opened and the staff was able to spend time adjusting to the new atmosphere, it was not as difficult as everyone assumed it might be – the restaurant is spacious enough to keep guests at a safe distance and guests were understanding of the rules.
“Everybody has expectations coming into a place, but nobody expects there won't be other people – coming out is a risk,” said Sahin. “They try their best to help the people who serve them and those who sit around them. People are very generous about the situation, they tip more, they want to support everyone who works during this pandemic.”
Said Mackay, “People know – you wear your mask, you keep six feet, you take your mask off when you eat. People have been really good about it … We check every staff member’s temperature at the door.”
Celikel, Sahin and Mackay said locals have been particularly helpful. Whether ordering a drink, sitting down to a meal or ordering to-go, they have been courteous with their support which plays a large part in why Taka staff, down about half, continues to work hard, said Celikel. “Most people know our situation, they know we're going through hard times. They come in here and they're helpful, they're being polite, still trying to keep life going. They see everyone is trying really hard, they're very understanding.”
One of the big conundrums in leading a new business in a second season is always the menu. While many restaurants continue to operate with a limited menu and staff, the three restaurateurs said their menu was not one of the concessions they were willing to make. Said Sahin, “To be honest, our menu is bigger compared to last year. Being our second year, we better know what our guests want. Because the first year was more of an adventure for us to see what the people around Boothbay Harbor need, we’ve since figured out what peoples' pallets require.”
“Our dishes are perfected and there are more options,” Celikel added. “People seem happier than last year.”
Celikel, Mackay and Sahin said the trick to having a good time coming out to eat is pretty simple: If you’re not comfortable coming out, don’t. “The most important thing for people to realize is … every risk that can happen, that they will be around other people,” said Sahin. “We respect that and that is why we deliver take-out for free … We also provide curbside and dockside pickup.”
“But if you are going to go out … the important thing to know is if you are coming here, you are going to have a good time,” Celikel said.
Mackay said Taka will continue braving the storm of COVID-19 by serving unique Mediterranean and American fusion. In the meantime, people who come out to the region will still find a beautiful place to enjoy. “It's Boothbay Harbor. If you're here, you're going to have a good time because you're here.”