WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — The COVID-19 pandemic led to capacity restrictions on indoor dining, which caused many restaurant owners to shift their operations outdoors.
But what happens when it starts to get colder outside?
One local restaurant owner tells 12 News he came across a way he hopes will extend outdoor dining through the fall and winter.
A staple in the Woonsocket community, Kay’s Restaurant has been around for more than 50 years.
“Kay’s had originally three sandwiches. It was steak sandwiches, roast beef sandwiches, and ham sandwiches,” owner David Lahousse said Monday.
Lahousse has owned Kay’s for the past 20 years and said the pandemic has been the hardest challenge he’s faced so far.
“In the business, when a blizzard would come by and you’d shut down for a day or two, or you’d lose power, those were like dreadful days,” he said. “But something like this that doesn’t end is the worst thing that I could ever imagine.”
Lahousse said COVID-19 forced him to lay off 30 members of his staff.
“Some of my employees have been here for over 20 years. It was the worst day of my life,” he recalled.
All of those employees have since returned to work, he said, but sales were down for the first few months.
“Now they’ve been really good because of the outdoor dining,” Lahousse added. “Outdoor dining has been the best thing that’s happened.”
But, being in New England, it’s only a matter of time before the temperatures drop and snow begins to fall, a harsh reality that several businesses will soon face.
Lahousse said he started searching for a tent when he came across igloo-style greenhouses.
“I happened to see some of these in an article in Colorado,” he said. “They do look nice, and I said, ‘that would be really different.'”
Lahousse said he’s already made several changes to his parking lot to enhance his customers’ experience, such as building fences and adding plants. Now, he hopes adding the greenhouses will help keep that experience going through the colder months.
“I want to make it a winter wonderland, you know? Right through the winter. Put some Christmas trees and really make it something special,” he said.
Each igloo costs about $1,400, according to Lahousse, and keeps the temperature 20-30 degrees warmer than the outside, with one party inside at a time.
“Whether you’re four or six or even possibly an eight, we won’t mix anybody in there. It’s your own little igloo,” he explained.
Lahousse also said his staff will clean the tables and chairs after each group, and he’s ordered electrostatic cleaners for additional cleaning.
“Honestly, it’s not all about the money for me,” he added. “I want people to have these jobs. I don’t want to lay anyone off.”
“They’re my family,” he continued. “I don’t want to disappoint them.”
Lahousse said he has two igloos already, and plans to add eight more.