After months of pandemic-related gloom, some rays of light are finally shining on the New Deal Cafe, Greenbelt’s popular cooperative restaurant, bar and arts venue. At the Cafe’s monthly meeting on June 22, plans were announced for a gradual re-opening for seated customers in July. Also, the board revealed that it had received loans from the federal government’s Covid-relief funds.
The not-for-profit Cafe laid off most of its staff and suspended its dine-in food operation along with its bar and music programs on March 16 in response to the worsening Covid pandemic. Since then, the Cafe’s food operator, DC Vegan, has been offering food for takeout and delivery only, along with starting programs to feed frontline workers and Greenbelt families in need.
These programs have brought in only a small fraction of the Cafe’s usual income, leaving the restaurant scrambling to find money to pay rent, utilities, debts and other bills. The board, staff and other Cafe volunteers launched several fundraising efforts, including donation drives, online benefit concerts and gift card sales, to stem the flow of red ink. In addition, the Cafe’s leadership team researched and applied to more than a dozen different government aid programs for businesses impacted by Covid restrictions.
These efforts have begun to bear fruit. In addition to the thousands of dollars that generous supporters have donated directly or through gift-card purchases in the past three months, board treasurer Dorian Winterfeld announced that the Cafe recently received both a $15,625 Payroll Protection Program loan and a $101,500 Economic Injury Disaster Loan. While the Cafe is grateful for this influx of capital, the government loans come with a variety of strings attached and most of the balance will eventually need to be repaid, Winterfeld noted.
“We’re keeping these sums in separate accounts, and we’re only going to write checks from them when we absolutely need to, and only for the purposes they were intended,” says Winterfeld.
Cafe Activities go Virtual
While in-house music and arts programs shut down in March, some activities have successfully shifted online. The monthly Reel and Meal program, for example, has transitioned to virtual space, with the films screened and discussions taking place on Zoom. DC Vegan has even created a special “picnic lunch” that patrons can pick up and eat at home while they’re watching the movie.
Similarly, weekly open mics are now being held on Zoom, and several bands have organized performances from their basements, porches or front yards that they have live-streamed through the Cafe’s Facebook page. Some of these musicians have generously turned their virtual events into fundraisers for the Cafe–including a live Middle Eastern music benefit broadcast from Istanbul! (To stay on top of online offerings, just follow the Cafe’s Facebook page or sign up for our monthly newsletter. (The sign-up form is at the very top of our home page.)regularly.)
The Road to Re-Opening
With the Prince George’s County government slowly lifting restrictions on restaurants, the Cafe leadership and DC Vegan have been working on plans to welcome diners back. The first phase of reopening allowed for socially-distanced dining outdoors. To achieve the mandated 6-foot-minimum spacing between tables, the Cafe needed to secure Greenbelt City Council approval to expand its patio boundaries
Weeks of discussions with city officials resulted in the Council approving the Cafe’s patio-seating plan at its meeting late Monday night. The plan now goes to county officials for final sign-off.
In the meantime, DC Vegan has been busy preparing to re-open safely. At the Cafe board meeting, they presented a detailed plan for ensuring the health of patrons and staff– including stepped up cleaning and disinfecting routines, modified interior floor plans, plastic barriers, face masks, hand sanitizer dispensers and other procedures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
DC Vegan told us they hope to be ready for re-opening by early July, and emphasized they would start with patio service only–expanding to indoor dining only if and when they’re confident it can be done safely.
How to Help
Board members note that the Cafe’s road to full recovery will be a long and challenging one, with government restrictions on bars and indoor music events likely to remain in place for months–perhaps well into 2021. To navigate this difficult road, the Cafe will continue to rely on the generosity of its members, supporters and customers. (Visit the Cafe’s website if you’d like to make a donation or buy a gift card.)
Another way to help is by contributing items or services to an online fundraising auction for the Cafe in September. The Cafe’s auction committee is seeking things or services with a value of at least $25 (preferably higher) that it can list in an online silent auction. You can also assist the Cafe by volunteering – either to help organize and run the auction, or to serve on its Audit Committee.
For more information about these and other ways to get involved with the member-owned, volunteer-run New Deal Cafe, please email: email@example.com.