“I think home-cooked meals is the key,” Chef Fiona O’Connor said as she selected a sealed meal pack from a table brimming with a rainbow of cuisine.
The smell of bread and the fresh dill she used to cook the to-go meals that afternoon hung in the early evening on Monday on the patio of Sebastian’s Seaside Grill in Apple Bay. The chef extolled the psychological benefits of enjoying a good meal during uncertain times, especially “when you have something comforting like, for the meat eaters, a hearty beef stew and some nice rice or potatoes.”
Ms. O’Connor is among many business owners in the territory who are walking an ever-more-challenging tightrope of figuring out how to serve customers and stay afloat while observing social distancing practices and government restrictions designed to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, the first two cases of which were confirmed in the territory yesterday afternoon.
A government order issued Sunday evening requires all businesses, services and recreational facilities to close from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily at least until April 17. Coupled with recent border closures, businesses are taking a hit in what otherwise would be the last few weeks of the tourism high season. But like Ms. O’Connor, they are also exploring ways to adapt.
Captain’s Kitchen, a catering service hosted by Sebastian’s, recently introduced a “Lockdown Menu” for pickup orders. The pre-packaged meals can last for up to three months in the freezer.
As new restrictions have been imposed on restaurants and other establishments in recent days, Ms. O’Connor said, she saw a need to provide healthy meals on the go.
“I’ve always focused on trying to make things happen in these times of trouble, so this will hopefully help a lot of people out, especially for people that don’t really cook that much,” she said.
The chef also places a premium on crafting meals to suit a variety of dietary needs, including vegetarian and dairy-free options. She said she found this skill to be particularly important as options for eating out become more limited.
“I eat a lot of vegetables, and I have a lot of friends who are vegan and vegetarian,” she said. “Things like the Korean lentils and then the stews and soups can fit the vegetarian diet. I wanted to cover all aspects.”
She values working with farmers in the territory who supply her greens, herbs and tomatoes, and she hopes to be able to continue sourcing produce from Virgin Gorda. To that end, Ms. O’Connor supports a new initiative from government to invest $2 million to boost agriculture and fisheries during the pandemic, and she hopes to source from more farmers and fishers in the territory soon.
The concept for the freezer meals came from her intention to provide meals to boats in the territory. Ms. O’Connor formerly worked as a captain for 12 years, and then she shifted to catering for the boats.
She also secured space for a sit-down restaurant by the same name at Hotel Castle Maria, which she used as a shelter and kitchen for community members who needed it following Hurricane Irma. She previously ran a sit-down Sunday brunch restaurant, which she continues at Sebastian’s on the weekends. However, she changed course. Now as news of the outbreak is unfolding, she is focusing on providing takeaway meals.
Sebastian’s owner Jake Barnes said he has heard interest in such a service from a number of community members.
“Everybody is staying at home, and a lot of people don’t really want to go to the grocery stores right now,” he said. “Being able to have a fresh meal that you can just reheat is, I think, appealing to a lot of people.”
Other businesses are retooling for the pandemic in different ways.
Conch Charters, a family-run business that has chartered exclusively out of the VI since 1986, recently started offering a “staycation” special for residents.
Co-owner Cindy Chestnut said besides being a new way to keep business going, offering the staycations is their way of providing an escape for people during the outbreak.
“Basically we’re offering [the special to] anybody who lives here,” she said. “You’re probably going to get bored at home, and you can self-isolate on a boat — you’re not going to run into anybody out there, and you’ll have the beaches to yourself.”
Effective March 23, neither tourists nor residents are allowed to enter the territory at least until April 14, with exceptions for shipping vessels.
Though travel beyond the territory is severely limited by border restrictions, Ms. Chestnut said the company’s charters can travel to any of the islands within the territory. The company typically only books week-long trips, but she said it can arrange three-day trips with some vessels.
Ms. Chestnut added that the industry is in an unprecedented position with the pandemic. After the 2017 hurricanes, Conch Charters didn’t have any boats at its disposal. Though the coronavirus is taking its toll this season, the company aims to utilise the resources it does have available this time around, which include bareboat and skippered options for sailboats and motor-yachts.
Tola Beverage Company, the territory’s newest brewery, launched its first line of beers last month.
Now it faces the challenge of being a fledgling business as tight social restrictions are being put in place. But the company is making adjustments to meet customers’ needs with takeaway growlers.
“One of our solutions is encouraging customers to bring or drop off one-litre or onegallon clean containers,” said co-owner Robin Periana. “We will sanitise and chill their container, then fill it with fresh brewed [beer] for pick up or takeout to enjoy in the privacy of their home.”
Mr. Periana said they use reverse osmosis water to clean and sanitise the containers to remove the taste of chlorinated pipe water. He noted that customers’ containers should have a screw top or fitted cap to keep the brew under pressure. The company offers discounts for refilling containers, and he said they are encouraging patrons to donate extra containers. As business owners work to keep pace with the everchanging news of COVID19, Mr. Periana encouraged community members to work together.
“It is very important for all retailers to be as creative as possible to help during this challenging time,” he said.
The company is working to adapt to the times with rigorous cleaning practices and observance of safe distancing practices, he said.