Restaurants and bars hope to cash in during the first full weekend of summer

RALEIGH, NC (WTVD) – The wait for Tonya Council and the team at Sweet Tea & Cornbread Grill and Eatery has been long, closed since March 2020.

“A lot of people have asked me when are we going to be back,” said Council, owner of the restaurant inside the North Carolina History Museum.

Their business suffered a 70% impact due to the pandemic, as the council turned to dining on the porch.

Much of their clientele comes from the state legislature across the street and guests at the Museum and Natural Science Museum.

“(Museum management was) like ‘okay the numbers are picking up, you might want to see if you can start reopening,” the Council recalled.

She also has a similarly-named outlet in Crabtree, Tonya’s Cookies, which is based in Chapel Hill but operates primarily online, as well as NC Made, an online gift box business. The Council stressed the importance of supporting local businesses.

“We cannot survive without you. Local is everything. So without the farmers, without the local stores, a lot of these people would go bankrupt. In my store in Crabtree, I also support a lot of local people. I bring jams, jellies and caramels from the local people, which keeps them alive, ”the council said.

“We tried to touch all the little places like this, the little places (that are) unknown, (the places) with good food. I tried to go to the museum, to try to go out because for a whole year we couldn’t do anything, ”added John White, a customer who stopped by for lunch on Saturday afternoon.

Council is the granddaughter of Mildred Council, known as “Mama Dip”, the famous culinary icon. She still helps her family at the restaurant of the same name in Chapel Hill.

“She was just saying go ahead and do what you can do and we’ve always been taught to keep working, and we’re still working together,” Council said.

About half a mile away, Clouds Brewing drew a nice crowd both inside and out.

“We were certainly pleasantly surprised and it is sometimes difficult to follow the speed at which this has happened. It is just amazing to see everyone here,” said General Manager Nicole Madey.

Outside of a close location, both establishments noted the addition of new staff, a common theme at area restaurants and bars.

“We have a lot of new hires. So people are coming in (and) understanding a little patience as we adjust to the volume,” Madey said.

“I’ve never seen it in my life. You usually have people coming in and asking (for work), but you can’t even get people to fill out an application these days,” said Council, who noted that she had four new staff and a returning from before the pandemic.

Clouds Brewing was down about 60% from projections in 2020, and although statewide restrictions have been largely relaxed, they still enforce social distancing and require staff to be masked.

Limited by the pandemic, they started planning ahead, working on beautifying and expanding their patio space.

“By winter, we’re going to surround this whole patio with a nice awning and have heaters here so we can sit even more than before COVID,” Madey said.

They have two locations in Raleigh and one in Brightleaf Square in Durham.

“Our taproom just down Atlantic Avenue has a lot of events and hosts food trucks and DJs, and they also host Cause for Paws events. So business is picking up there,” said Madey.

Clouds Brewing hopes to ease some of its restrictions later this summer.

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