Without fans in the Dome, local restaurants, businesses adapt on match days

UPDATE: September 14, 11:20 a.m.

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Sitting at a table inside Varsity Pizza, Eric Ockert scanned the restaurant. It was Wednesday, three days before the Syracuse football season opener at Chapel Hill and two weeks before the home opener against Georgia Tech. The 13-year-old employee pointed out where the pizza line should be on Syracuse game days: wrap up the center aisle, curl up when it hits the grill area, then continue outside where more customers are waiting. to enter.

Two hours before a home game last year – and every other year – that’s what happened. There are people “wall to wall”. Fans use window sills and the tops of garbage cans as places to drop their food. A big home game can generate the equivalent of a week of regular business, he said.

But this year, in a coronavirus-modified season with matches without fans and million lost revenue for SU and the local community, it won’t, Ockert said.

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“It will probably be like a normal lunch,” Ockert said.

Game day earnings are significantly higher for Marshall Street staples including Varsity, Acropolis Pizza House, Shirt World, Manny’s and Faegan’s Pub & Cafe, as well as Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. While these companies are trying to find new ways to generate income, without the usual flow of fans, they know this season will present some unique challenges.

“Business is down,” said David Tewksbury, warehouse manager and employee at Manny’s. “I hope it picks up again next year, but I just don’t see it happening this year.”

At Varsity, one of Syracuse’s most iconic game venues, Ockert said he was unsure if people would take the match day trip to the hill if it wasn’t for the fans in the dome. They will likely stay home and watch the game on TV, which Ockert would do himself.

There are season ticket holders – who are also regular customers of Varsity Pizza – who have been coming to the Marshall Street restaurant every game day for 30 to 50 years. “We probably won’t see them again,” he said.

Traditionally, the restaurant would stop deliveries on match days because it would be crowded, but now Ockert has said he will rely on this for part of his business. Restaurants are allowed to have up to 50% capacity for indoor dining, something Ockert hopes to capitalize on with a large projection screen for patrons to watch the game.

We are not open to (losing) money, so obviously we are also trying to make money, but at the end of the day the number one concern for us is to protect everyone.

Eric Ockert, Varsity Pizza employee

For Ockert and John Dellas, co-owners of Faegan’s Pub & Cafe and Varsity Pizza, their priority is keeping the community safe and limiting the spread of the virus – not money.

“We like to see our customers and employees as all family, and our first priority will always be to ensure the safety of our family,” Ockert said. “We’re not open to (losing) money, so obviously we’re trying to make money as well, but at the end of the day the number one concern for us is to protect everyone.”

Coming to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Armory Square is a game day tradition for many longtime fans, said Jason Ryan, marketing director for the chain’s Syracuse location. The clientele doesn’t include many students due to its downtown location, he said, but many suburban residents will stop on Chemin du Dôme.

“For them, it’s all part of the experience of going to the game,” said Ryan. “It’s not just about going out to dinner, it’s become a tradition every year.”

The restaurant created a “hatchback package” for delivery or pickup, allowing fans to recreate as much of a game day experience as possible, Ryan said. This means providing wings, ribs and sides for fans to eat at home.

The barbecue seal also has outdoor and indoor seating and has added iWave filtration systems that can remove coronavirus particles from the air and will better protect customers and employees, Ryan said. But he understands that many fans might not be comfortable coming to eat.

The problem is the loss of fans on the outside, Ryan said, because there is no way to reach them. At Dinosaur’s, visiting fans hear about the restaurant and are ready to head there early or wait for hours to eat. Years later they will return – it will be part of their game day routine as well.

Dinosaur sells barbecue sauce in nearly 375 stores nationwide, so fans outside have the opportunity to cook at home with friends and family and “bring so much of that tradition into. their home, ”Ryan said. But beyond that, it will be difficult to recover this lost market.

Dellas and his employees will also be affected by the loss of away fans, as Faegan’s often serves as the “home of the away team,” the 42-year-old owner said. The bar also had a large base of repeat customers which has been “downsized from what it used to be” and is “now negligible,” Dellas said. Although Governor Andrew Cuomo’s order allows up to 145 people in Faegan’s, Dellas chose a stricter 55 occupancy because he found it manageable – both from a restaurant and public health perspective. .

“It will be just a well below average Saturday,” Dellas said.

“I have to say after 42 years of doing this it’s really not fun doing it anymore,” Dellas said. “Maybe the pandemic brings me to this place where it’s the icing on the cake – like the time for me to go.”

Tewksbury, an employee of Manny’s, agreed with Dellas’ sentiment. He remembers when the store had 10 employees working the same shift to handle the game day rush, and when there were so many customers in the store that he couldn’t recognize who was a regular. and who was not. Now there is only one person running the store, business is slow and locals are not interested in buying merchandise without any games to carry it, Tewksbury said.

“People don’t care as much about wearing Syracuse clothes unless they’re students here,” Tewksbury said.

For Dave Jacobs, 44-year owner of Shirt World on Marshall Street, it’s just about moving forward and focusing on supporting the community. He was unable to attend the state fair, which he has visited annually since 1967, but is confident that the quality of Shirt World’s products and the support of the remaining local community will help them weather the pandemic. .

Mavrikidis’ father lived through the Greek Civil War and taught him the importance of saving $ 2 for every $ 3 earned. Without the rush of game day this season, he still knows his stuff, and those close to him will be fine.

“As long as we’re healthy – that’s the main thing – and can provide food for the family, who cares? Said Mavrikidis. “If it takes another year, it takes another year. This is how it should be looked at.

As Syracuse kicked off its season on Saturday, a dozen people dispersed across Varsity just after noon. The League’s 2020 calendar was still glued to the wall with 11 individual banners, some on the left, others on the right. The restaurant’s projection screen was hung in front of the grill.

But without ACC Network – something Ockert is working to acquire for the coming weeks – SpongeBob SquarePants played onscreen instead. As this was an away game, a large crowd was not expected. This would be the case in any season.

This year, however, they will all be like that. They’ll just be normal lunches.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, the name of the co-owner of Varsity Pizza was misspelled. His name is John Dellas, not Dellis.

Contact Roshan: [email protected] | @ Roshan_f16



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Gladys T. Hensley

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