More people visiting area restaurants, bars

Jill Whalen, Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa.
·3 min read

Apr. 17—Since Pennsylvania recently lifted some restrictions on dining capacity and alcohol service, area restaurant owners say their businesses are getting back to the "normal" before the COVID-19 pandemic.

But what's not normal is the lack of workers and the unavailability of some food and restaurant supplies.

Jimmy Sabatino and his siblings, Donald Sabatino and Jenna Bove, oversee Vesuvio's restaurants in Hazleton, Drums and Wilkes-Barre.

"I think people are very excited to be out on the patio or to be able to be seated at the bar again," Jimmy Sabatino said. "That dynamic — the fact that they can sit at the bar — is only going to increase over time. And as more people are getting vaccinated, they will feel comfortable sitting at the bar again. That was a big chunk of our business that we did lose because of the pandemic — the bar trade."

Since April 4, establishments can now resume bar service; no longer require purchase of food for alcohol service; and increase indoor dining capacity to 75%, with 6 feet between diners.

At Fourth Street Pub in West Hazleton, owner Martin Beccone said bar business is picking up.

"It's good. It's really good," he said. "We are definitely seeing a bit more people. Plus I think more people are coming out more in general."

Vesuvio's in Drums recently opened its outdoor patio following its winter closure. In addition to a number of tables, the patio features a bar.

"Good help is hard to find," he said. "We're looking for bartenders and servers. This year more than any other has been really hard to staff back up."

Vesuvio's was able to keep its staff throughout COVID-19.

"Now we need more people because now the demand is going up. It hasn't been through the roof yet but I imagine over the next few weeks it will be," Jimmy Sabatino said.

Beccone is hoping to get Fourth Street's patio open when the weather breaks.

"The other half of it is I'm having a hard time getting enough employees because everybody gets $300 a week," he said, referring to an additional $300 folks receive on top of their weekly unemployment compensation. "I don't blame anybody for not coming to work but it's very difficult to find employees."

Beccone said it's not just the service industry. Others are struggling to find workers.

"The price of everything is going through the roof because of it," he said.

For example, a case of chicken wings could be purchased for $65 to $70 around this time last year.

"Right now, they're costing me $132 a case," Beccone recently said. "The reason being is because there is not enough workers to harvest the chickens."

Two weeks ago, Fourth Street almost ran out of wings — one of its best selling items. The restaurant typically buys, prepares and sells 17 cases a week.

"I couldn't even get them. I was down to my last half case, and the (vendor) showed up with my wings," he said. "It's crazy right now."

Jimmy Sabatino has also seen varying prices on food and supplies.

"It's been really interesting during the pandemic because the price would spike of something you would never even think of," he said.

And there were shortages of a multitude of items.

"I know that ketchup packets are the new hot thing that nobody has that everybody wants," Jimmy Sabatino said. "It went from toilet paper to paper towels. It was roast beef for a while, then it was bacon and now it is ketchup packets."

Jimmy Sabatino said his grandparents, the late Renato and Filippa Castagliola, opened Vesuvio's in Hazleton 46 years ago.

"They taught us to ride the wave, to make the changes where you need to to keep yourself afloat until things get back to normal," he said. "I think they taught us pretty well."

Contact the writer: jwhalen@standardspeaker.com; 570-501-3592.