Washington’s Kosher Restaurant Suffering From Dwindling Tourism

char bar
Char Bar (Google Maps)

As businesses around the nation suffer from restrictions and fears over the new coronavirus, some of the most affected are those dependent on tourism, as much non-essential travel has been curtailed.

Michael Chelst, owner of Char Bar, Washington, D.C.’s only kosher meat restaurant, told Hamodia in a telephone interview on Sunday that his business is down 75% over the past week and-a-half.

“At this point it would be cheaper for me to close,” says Chelst, “but I am trying to stay open to help my employees have income, and also to be of service for those in town who need kosher food.”

The capital does not have a large Orthodox Jewish population, and two-thirds of Char Bar’s business is dependent on tourists and other visitors, many of whom have canceled travel plans recently.

The upcoming spring-break period is usually a high-volume period for the restaurant, but Chelst said he does not expect much spring-break tourism this year.

Schools totaling over 3,000 students had booked trips to Washington in March and April, with catering by Char Bar, but they canceled.

And the cancellations are expected to continue. Kesher Israel shul held a seder in Char Bar last Pesach, and had booked for this year as well. “They haven’t officially canceled yet,” says Chelst, “but it’s in serious jeopardy.”

Chelst has at least one thing to be thankful for: the increased outbreak of the virus, with the resulting panic, crowd-limiting regulations and curtailed tourism, only hit just after last week’s AIPAC conference, one of Char Bar’s busiest times of the year.

A higher proportion than usual of Char Bar’s customers have recently been ordering delivery rather than eat-in, likely in a social-distancing measure – not that Char Bar is too socially active these days.

The District of Columbia, which has already banned public gatherings of more than 250 people in restaurants and other venues, on Sunday announced new guidelines limiting table seating to six people or fewer, and mandating that occupied tables and booths be separated by at least 6 feet.

But Chelst, with a sorrowful laugh, says the regulations are the least of his concerns.

“I’d be happy if my restaurant had a table filled every six feet.”

Chelst says the distress is compounded by his having no idea how long the situation will last.

“We are meeting every day to re-evaluate what we can do to survive,” he said. “We hope whoever is still in town will continue to support us, whether eat-in, carry-out or delivery, because right now, the restaurant and employees need all the help we can get.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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