MIDDLETOWN, NJ — Not surprisingly, Middletown restaurant owners and those in the industry are furious with Gov. Murphy's dramatic reversal on Monday, when he announced restaurants will not be allowed to resume indoor dining at 25 percent capacity this Thursday as planned.
No opening date for indoor dining has been announced.
"It's outrageous, honest to God," said Shawky El Sayad, general manager of the New Monmouth Diner on Hwy. 35. "We ordered inventory, meats, food, etc. for Thursday. I made a schedule for all my servers to be back. Now what am I supposed to do with them? Who's going to pay for the food we ordered? And he does this to an industry that's already been struggling for four months. It's outrageous."
Mariah Acker, one of the co-owners of Meemom's Middletown, a popular breakfast and brunch spot, said it was difficult — to put it politely — to hear of Murphy's dramatic reversal Monday afternoon.
"We had been preparing for this the whole week up until yesterday and when he made the announcement it was just like, Wow. That sucks," she said. She acknowledged she was trying to be polite in her remarks. "We are definitely not satisfied with his decision."
She said she knows Meemom's could have served customers indoors safely.
"We have barriers in between our booths that meet the qualifications; it's possible to keep people six feet apart," she said. "Obviously, we couldn't fill the restaurant to the capacity we're used to, but we definitely could have made it work."
All three Meemom's Jersey Shore locations — in Middletown, Brick and Wall — have been open and serving take-out during the pandemic. The Brick location has outdoor seating; Middletown does not. Acker said she is working with the town to put up a few tables outside in the Middletown ShopRite plaza where they are located.
"Being on DoorDash and UberEats has helped us a lot," she said. "We're OK for now but if this continues like this, I don't know how much longer any business can stay. It's scary."
"It's been really hard, but we're still doing OK," she said. "Please just support your local businesses right now."
Murphy announced his decision Monday with very little notice, say New Jersey business advocates.
"The decision at such a late date is a financial hardship on an industry that has already suffered extreme losses," said Jennifer Eckhoff, director of the Eastern Monmouth Chamber of Commerce. "Businesses asked for advance notice to prepare, rehire staff and stock food."
All of these are expenses, she pointed out, and "restaurants are now forced to sit on these expenses without the opportunity to open and recover income."
So far, no Middletown business has closed due to the coronavirus shutdown
While many small businesses in town are hurting, no Middletown business has yet to permanently close due to coronavirus, or due to the state-mandated business shutdowns.
"Many Middletown businesses are struggling, that's for sure," said Middletown Mayor Tony Perry.
Surrounding towns have not been so lucky: Hoffman's Ice Cream permanently closed their Little Silver location. CJ McLoone's tavern in Tinton Falls will be closed for the entire summer, with hopes to reopen in the fall. Daza Subs & Deli in Keyport is shutting down.
Ocean Cafe in Red Bank, a popular lunch spot, is shuttering. Alfonso's Pastry Shoppe, a family-run bakery on Broad Street in Red Bank, will not be reopening its doors. Tilton Fitness permanently closed all seven of its gyms in New Jersey, including its Hazlet location. The corporate Gold's Gym, which has a location in Pier Village in Long Branch, filed for bankruptcy in May, and the CEO said the forced COVID lockdown was to blame.
Monmouth County state Senator Declan O'Scanlon, a Republican who represents this area, slammed Murphy for reversing course on indoor dining. On Monday, Murphy also vetoed legislation that would have appropriated $100 million in CARES Act funding to create a loan program for New Jersey's small restaurants.
“It’s a real slap in the face to the restaurant and hospital industry," said O'Scanlon, who lives in Little Silver. "We realize that there have been flare-ups in other states but New Jersey was already moving slowly with reopening. Murphy is like watching a fireman saying they need to save their water as a town slowly burns to the ground."
Murphy said he voted the restaurant loan program because it "would duplicate the already existing efforts of the Economic Development Authority (EDA)."
"This bill would require the EDA to establish an additional program exclusively for small hospitality industry-related businesses that is nearly identical to other programs for which these businesses already qualify," said the governor.
Related: These Middletown-Area Businesses Will Simply Not Be Reopening (June 26)