SALEM, MA — The first year owning a restaurant is difficult enough without having to make some of the choices Kathleen Rodgers has had to make in her first year owning Spitfire Tacos of Salem.
Rodgers, and her partner, Ryan, signed a lease to open the Lafayette Street shop on Feb. 1 — six weeks before the start of the coronavirus health crisis that would consume the remainder of 2020. The owners could have stayed open — as takeout restaurants were allowed to do during the spring shutdown — but instead they closed until June.
"We were very anxious," she told Patch. "We had to start paying rent here and we also still had to pay at home. It was definitely scary. But we think we did the right thing. During the quarantine, we'd come in here and do construction.
"We are both pretty level-headed, so we tried to stay positive."
Rodgers, a Salem native, said things have been going mostly well since Spitfire Tacos opened on June 10. Business has been brisk. They have been able to adapt to the shifting guidelines and restrictions thrown at state bar and restaurant owners this summer and into the fall.
"It's the first restaurant we've opened so we don't really have anything to compare it to," she allowed. "But it's been really busy."
Only when coronavirus cases started rising across the North Shore again in the fall, she and Ryan were faced with another tough choice that many in the hospitality business who deal with the public every day have had to contemplate in recent weeks.
"We just recently cut ties with our families until all this is over," she determined. "We weren't seeing a lot of our families anyway. But the numbers had gone up, and we had to be here, so it just didn't feel right."
Yet, while similarly tough decisions have left so many feeling down this holiday season, Rodgers said she and Ryan still feel fortunate with how their new business has been embraced in The Point neighborhood.
So, they decided that while they can't see their families this year, they can do something nice for others who may be a little lonely themselves during the pandemic.
On Christmas Eve, Spitfire Tacos will offer free meals from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The plates are takeout only — with one allowed per person — consisting of Spitfire's mix of rice, beans, salad and tamarind apple Christmas ham.
"We just thought that it would be a nice thing for people who aren't going to see their families and for people who don't have anywhere to go," she reasoned. "We are using some of our profits from our first six months open to fund this little gift. We just want to do something nice."
Rodgers said that while the free meals are mostly intended for residents of The Point neighborhood, the meals are available for anybody. She said they don't know how many people will show up, but that they have ordered food for 250.
"We are hoping to get a large crowd," she said, "not all at the same time."
As word has began to circulate of their plans, Rodgers said several people have volunteered to help the owners execute their good deed. But she said they thought it better to pay the small staff to work the day since the place will be closed a couple of days that week due to the holidays.
"It's just the eight hams, the beans and the rice, so it's not too much," she said. "But it's something we can give back to the community."
Scott Souza is a Patch field editor covering Beverly, Danvers, Marblehead, Peabody, Salem and Swampscott. He can be reached at Scott.Souza@Patch.com. Twitter: @Scott_Souza.
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