Anytime Shaun Thomas walked into Hatboro Dish in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, he loved the smell of breakfast cooking.
“Fresh pancakes, maple syrup, and bacon,” he said.
Thomas was a regular but knew the future of the restaurant was uncertain.
“It would suck if the Dish had to close because of COVID,” Thomas said. “This has always been one of me and my grandparents favorite places. It would be tough to lose a staple in the Hatboro community.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the Hatboro Dish hard. Ever since March 15, 2020, sales have been down 45%, according to owner Jackie Evangelista.
Evangelista knew she needed to do something to keep her business afloat. That’s when she heard about the Barstool Fund.
Evangelista originally learned about the Barstool Fund after a local restaurant that had been providing food for the free meals announced it was receiving help from the fund.
“I’ll try it,” Evangelista said. “It can’t hurt. I found out how to do a Tik Tok video and sent it to [Portnoy].”
Evangelista was not expecting the video to come of anything but soon found herself on a video call with Portnoy.
“I was surprised,” she said. “I did not think that he would pick a restaurant in the small town of Hatboro.”
Evangelista received the call while sitting in her car.
“I was freaking crying,” she said. “I was grateful.”
She knew at that moment that her restaurant was going to survive the pandemic. During the call, Portnoy mentioned how he appreciated the Hatboro Dish helping out families in need.
Dave Portnoy, founder of Barstool Sports, created the Barstool Fund due to the lack of relief small businesses have received over the past year. He donated $500,000 at the beginning of the fund. As of March 19, more than $37,000,000 have been raised from private donations, according to the Barstool Fund website.
The fund has lent support to more than 326 businesses, including the Hatboro Dish.
Since the start of the pandemic, the 80-seat restaurant has either opened at a limited capacity or been completely closed, depending on what state guidelines dictated at any given time.
“Awful,” Evangelista said. “It has been completely awful.”
Back in August, the restaurant was able to operate at 50% capacity, but a spike in coronavirus cases statewide meant the restaurant would shut down again in December.
“Fifty-percent capacity means we can only have 37 customers in the restaurant,” Evangelista said. “Forty-four [people inside total], including staff, and it’s hard because people would complain that [the restaurant] is not full.”
Evangelista also had to close the restaurant for a full week in February so her staff could get tested for COVID-19 and remain quarantined.
“Everything has been tough,” she said. “Everything this year has been very tough.”
A lot of the regular customers have also stopped coming in, some due to age and vulnerability to the coronavirus and others because new policies and social distancing were just inconvenient for them, according to Evangelista.
“My family doesn’t want to risk going out,” Thomas said. “We would much rather be safe than sorry.”
Evangelista has looked for ways to keep the restaurant afloat, offering curbside pickup and applying for any programs targeted at helping businesses.
“I am in survival mode,” she said. “I am not ready to give up.”
Many regulars still try to support the restaurant as best they can, ordering curbside food and encouraging friends and neighbors to do the same.
“I always love giving back to small businesses,” Hatboro Dish customer Layne Morgan said. “With times being as tough as they are, I try to order out often to keep supporting my local restaurants.”
Despite a decrease in the restaurant’s revenue, Evangelista, along with support from community donations, has provided free meals to those in need Tuesdays and Fridays between 4 p.m.- 6 p.m. from March to June 2020. More than 13,000 free meals have been served from the Hatboro Dish over the course of 29 days, according to Evangelista.
“It [giving out free meals] is definitely something I am going to be doing in the future,” Evangelista said.
Food for these meals is often donated from other restaurants in the area. Meals include a protein, starch, dessert, milk, fruit, vegetable, and whatever else was donated that week.
The money received from the Barstool Fund can help the restaurant continue to pay their employees, bills, or help with anything that it needs.
“I have been a big fan of Barstool Sports and I was glad they chose to help out the Dish,” Thomas said.
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Editor’s note: Our special reporting on COVID-19 may focus on communities outside Philadelphia because many of our student journalists are now temporarily located outside of the city. Instead, our reporters will cover how the coronavirus is impacting their own communities from across the country and around the world. We will return to hyperlocal coverage of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods as soon as possible.