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 In HearSway

When restrictions put in place by Gov. Roy Cooper closed dining rooms across Moore County, restaurant owners turned to takeout and delivery as a means of survival. But that revenue alone isn’t enough to make ends meet.

“This is a disaster,” said Mark Elliott, who has had to lay off more than 95 staff members from Elliotts on Linden, The Sly Fox and The Roast Office. “There’s no building on the ground and no rubble, but it’s a disaster.”

Elliott has created a closed Facebook group for owners to share ideas and offer support through the hardship. The group has held brainstorming sessions and meetings with local legislators. A video on how the restrictions have impacted business is in the works.

On Sunday, Ashten’s offered a simple staff meal for the service industry community. Pictured from left: Jessica Cooper Shepherd, Valerie Serrao, Charlie Coulter, Ashley Van Camp and Aisha Morris

This all came after a Sunday evening meal in downtown Southern Pines, built to boost morale in restauranteurs missing the ability to bring people together — the very thing that good food is meant to do.

“It’s kind of like a funeral right now; a long, slow funeral,” says Danny Hayes, owner of the House of Fish in Aberdeen, adding that he has many regulars who have become like family. “It’s so much more than a restaurant. We know the faces of these people and look forward to seeing them.”

The takeout meal was organized by Ashley Van Camp and offered at a sidewalk table outside her restaurant, Ashten’s.

“In a small town, it can be competitive — to have the best staff, to provide the best experience,” she said. “But right now, we are all one. We’re all just trying to make it to the other side.”

Danny Hayes and Ashley Van Camp greet each other

Like all staff meals, the offering was simple — a bowl of rice with meat or vegan choices. Sandhills Community College and Thyme and Place provided pastries and sweets. Paradox Farm made sure everyone left with Cheese Louise and curds.

“Obviously, no one is starving, but some of us are having a very hard time getting the resources that we need,” Ashley said. “We want everyone in the service industry to know that we’re in this together.”

Warren Lewis, owner of Chef Warren’s, met with several service industry employees to capture their stories and photograph them, “Humans of New York” style. He’s calling it Hospitality People of Moore County.

“At the end of the day, sometimes what people need most is to just be heard,” Lewis said. “Yes, I’m doing what I can to help my staff and feed them, but I’m also just listening to them.”

A public Facebook group called #SaveOurServiceIndustry has also been established. It currently has more than 800 members.

“This is about the long-term success of this as a food destination,” said Kevin Drum, owner of Drum & Quill Public House. “Yes, we are a golf destination, but we’re also a food destination.”

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