BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Restaurant Week opens in Birmingham today with a focus on helping local restaurants survive the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of them have struggled, including Ash Neighborhood Bar & Grill in West Homewood. At just over two years old, the restaurant is still trying to make a name for itself, and owner Mark Driskill said it was building momentum during the winter before the pandemic began. The threat of the virus forced him to close for a month and a half. When he reopened, he had to start serving curbside and takeout, which the restaurant wasn’t built for. He says his catering business has basically dried up.
Driskell called it “unimaginably difficult” for a newer restaurant to reclaim momentum after a halt in business.
“It’s really hard to get that going again, because you’re already kind of at the bottom,” he said. “And so you’re not one of these big names in the top, in the front of people’s brains that’s established and everything else. It’s really hard getting back in people’s takeout and curbside regimen.”
Restaurant Week organizers wanted to help local restaurants like Ash this year, so they removed the cap on the number of participants. Around 60 signed up, all of them local. In an effort to support the community, organizers allowed only local restaurants to participate this year. They also extended the event from the usual 10 days to 18.
“I think (Restaurant Week) gives us a great chance with a wider audience to show Birmingham what we do and what makes Sol y Luna special,” said Sol y Luna co-owner Aimee Castro, who liked the idea of extending the event. “And so you’ll have people who have never heard of Sol y Luna come to our establishment, order curbside or dine in. And so I think it’s a really great opportunity with a wider audience.”
Castro and her husband, Jorge, just opened a new location in Mountain Brook in February, about seven years after closing the previous Sol y Luna, which was open in the Lakeview neighborhood from 1998 to 2013. Less than a month after planting their new roots, the pandemic hit.
“It was kind of like, ‘are you kidding me? Is this real?'” Castro said.
The Castros adapted by adding curbside and lunch hours. They’ll offer lunch and dinner specials for Restaurant Week, and they hope the extension of the event will help their business.
“It gives people more of an opportunity with a longer time frame,” Aimee Castro said. “People love Restaurant Week, so I think that this is going to be an even greater success this year.”
Ash has survived the pandemic thanks to loans, but Driskell said the restaurant still needs more business. He’s not sure what to expect since the pandemic has forced so many changes, but he hopes Restaurant Week will be a boost for his restaurant and others.
“I hope people realize, ‘okay, these guys are still around, like all these folks are still around, they’re still churning, working hard,'” he said. “And I hope through this we’re rewarded in that with exposure, with revenue, with sales. But then I hope there’s some kind of momentum going into the fall.”
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