As the coronavirus continues to spread in the D.C. area, concerns that winter could wipe out restaurants already battered by the virus are also spreading.
Areas across the D.C. region experimented with “streateries” over the summer, but as winter looms, the race is on to get heaters that will allow diners to be comfortable eating outdoors as the temperatures drop.
Julie Verratti, co-founder of Denizens Brewery Co., which has locations in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, said she received disappointing news last week.
“We just got an email from the vendor that we ordered a bunch of heaters from,” Verratti said, but then was told the vendor could not get a hold of any heaters and the order was being canceled. “So now you have a shortage of all these outdoor heating elements, and we’re scrambling to try to figure that out.”
Verratti said she wasn’t alone in her search for outdoor heating equipment. Other restaurant owners told her they, too, were coming up empty-handed.
“I’m hearing the same thing,” said Ginanne Italiano, president and CEO of the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce.
Many restaurants are banking on outdoor dining workable to survive the pandemic.
“That’s a big issue for everybody, so we’re trying to work that out,” Italiano told WTOP.
Business owners aren’t the only ones trying to get their hands on portable outdoor heaters, Italiano said. Homeowners are, too.
“I think a lot of people are trying to do that on their patios to try to bring family together for the holidays,” she said.
Reeves Connolly, senior category manager at WebstaurantStore, a restaurant supply business with a facility in Pennsylvania, said business is booming.
“Demand has skyrocketed, to put it plainly,” he said. “We’re about a month into the standard season and we’ve already sold roughly double what we did for the entire four-month season last year.”
Connolly said he couldn’t give WTOP raw numbers but put it this way: “I would say a shocking number of patio heaters have been sold.”
For restaurants scrambling to catch up now, Connolly said most of the remaining heaters are electric.
“If someone is looking for your traditional propane patio heater, we’re going to have a hard time getting that for you right now.”
Connolly said that many products are manufactured overseas, and as with everything else, the coronavirus pandemic has caused problems in the supply chain.
“It’s become very difficult to get shipping space to get products from where they’re made to the U.S. So that’s the underlying issue,” he said.
As for whether homeowners are nibbling away at the supply that would normally be purchased by restaurants and other businesses, Connolly said there is some indication that’s the case.
“We can’t directly track the customer type on our website,” but he said some orders are going to private addresses.
He added: “I will say from personal experience, I have had some friends ask me about getting them, but we’re just not able to provide them at this point.”
If there’s one bit of good news for businesses, Italiano of the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce said it’s the recent news that Pfizer may have a vaccine that’s reportedly 90% effective.
“It’s a relief! This is what we’ve been waiting to hear,” Italiano said. “People are feeling like this thing [the coronavirus], we’re going to come out of it.”
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