Pastabilities Cindy Essa

Cindy Essa is the owner of Pastabilities, a restaurant in the Irving Park Plaza on Battleground Avenue. The popular eatery has been a go-to spot for fans of the ACC and college basketball for the past 25 years.

GREENSBORO — When the ACC headquarters is hungry, Pastabilities cooks.

The little restaurant smack in the middle of 21 shops in the Irving Park Plaza on Battleground Avenue has been a go-to spot for the league the last 25 years.

Truth is, it’s been a go-to spot for lots of folks.

And now the dining room is closed as part of Gov. Roy Cooper’s sweeping executive order allowing take-out only at restaurants, an emergency measure to help stem the tide of the coronavirus pandemic.

The virus has already robbed much from Greensboro in this odd March.

“God willing,” Cindy Essa says, “we’ll never see anything like this again.”

Essa, a Wake Forest alumna, opened Pastabilities in August of 1995.

Business boomed in 2006, the year Greensboro trademarked the Tournament Town moniker (TM serial number 78800856) when the Greensboro Coliseum became the first arena ever to host three college basketball tournaments in three consecutive weeks — 28 games in all between the ACC women’s, ACC men’s and NCAA men’s opening rounds.

That was supposed to happen again this March, until last week’s ACC Tournament was abruptly halted Thursday, part of the sports world’s COVID-19 shutdown.

“The last time that happened, it was insane,” Essa said. “And we had prepared for insane this month.

“We lost seven caterings the minute the ACC Tournament stopped, jobs for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. And that was just the ACC. That didn’t include this week’s Division III swimming (championships) or the NCAA Tournament or the YMCA nationals. The Y meet, that’s five or six days, three caterings a day for teams of 30 to 45 people.”

Essa paused and shook her head. She has 49 employees that rely on Pastabilities for income. She worries about them. They’re family, she says.

“Thankfully, catering isn’t our whole business,” Essa says. “It’s just one segment that has built us a cushion so I can take care of my employees. I’m very lucky.”

Like a lot of restaurants, Pastabilities has adjusted on the fly. On Wednesday, the first full day of the dine-in ban, Essa and her staff rolled out enhanced curb service.

“Gratefully, we’re set up for carry-out and delivery,” Essa says. “My wait staff is helping us with a curbside service we started (Monday). When people call on the phone, we say, ‘Tell us what your car looks like, and call again when you get here, and we’ll bring it out to you.’ That way, our wait staff still has jobs, can still work and make money.”

Essa’s older brother, Ray, is a restaurateur, too. His place, Café Pasta & Grille on State Street, turns 35 this year. Both of them worry about their regulars, she says.

“We’re trying to come up with meals that people can take for two or four people,” Essa says. “Because people are still working. … We’re going to do what we know, and do it as best as we can. We really want to help people. This isn’t just trying to keep our business afloat. We have customers who come in here three and four times a week. I worry about them like family. They don’t necessarily want to learn how to cook right now. They want to know they have the option of letting us cook for them.”

Essa says she has been moved by calls and messages from people who want to help.

She hopes other small businesses, not just restaurants and bars, will find the same kind of support from their customers.

“People think twice about everything ever since this started,” she says. “One of the shop owners and I were talking. They’ve got all this inventory, all these spring clothes. But everything is canceled, so who’s going to buy new clothes if they don’t have anywhere to go? You want to find a way to support businesses like that. I’ve had a lot of people come in and buy gift cards, just because they want to support us now. That’s how amazing people are. And you can do things like that at all local businesses. … We need to help each other.”

Contact Jeff Mills at (336) 373-7024, and follow @JeffMillsNR on Twitter.

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