GREENSBORO — The language spoken in the kitchen at Vito’s Restaurant is Italian, and Sal Romano slips comfortably into his father’s dialect as he relays customers’ orders from the cozy dining room.
There are 10 booths and 12 tables inside the little restaurant that’s been part of the Golden Gate Shopping Center since 1998, when Sal’s parents, Naples natives Ciro and Angela, opened the place.
And as of 5 p.m. Tuesday, all those tables and booths were empty, as North Carolina restaurants were banned from dine-in service by Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order, part of a larger attempt to stem the tide of the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our business is based on dining in, and that’s what is closing,” Romano said. “We’ve been trying to keep everything extra clean and as sanitized as possible ever since this thing started. We’ve never had much of a take-out business. Hopefully the take-out business will grow, because if not, who knows what’s going to happen next?”
Romano has worked at the family business, well, forever. He started helping out at the restaurant as a kid after school. Work. Go home. Come back and do it again the next day.
There was always the next day.
“We’re not a big corporation. We’re not a chain-restaurant franchise,” Romano said. “It’s just us. All independently-owned or family-owned small businesses are going to struggle.”
There are six employees at Vito’s, cooking and serving old-world Italian food as well as hot sandwiches.
“In the past week, it’s really only been three of us working,” Romano said. “Once they put us in a state of emergency last Tuesday, business started decreasing. On Friday and Saturday night, we closed at 8:30 both nights. We’re normally full those nights and open until 10:30 or 11 o’clock. … We worry about our regulars.”
On this bleak day, two women paid at the register and left with a brown bag with extra food.
“Goodbye, ladies,” Romano said. “Remember, I wrote instructions on how to prepare that on the outside of the boxes.”
Vito’s has scaled back its supply orders, Romano said, going almost two weeks now without a delivery truck. They would rather run out of food than get stuck with inventory that would go bad.
Even so, it could be worse.
“My grandma called me this morning from Italy,” Romano said. “She’s under quarantine. They all are. She says one person can go out of the household, but you have to have a note from their feds just to go to work or to the grocery store. There’s no bar-hopping or roaming the roads, anything like that. And if you do go to work, you have to wear a mask and something almost like a hazmat suit. My uncle works on boats, rebuilding motors in a shipyard. Before he leaves the house in the morning, he has to put on his mask and all that stuff.”
Some places have opted to close altogether rather than cope with takeout or delivery.
Across the shopping center’s parking lot, a friendly dark-haired barista at the counter told each Green Bean customer that the local coffee shop’s locations at Golden Gate and on Elm Street will close for two weeks starting Wednesday.
“Everything is happening so fast,” she said. “The updates are coming like crazy. It’s hard to keep up.”