Philadelphia restaurant owner shares reality of redefining the business amid the pandemic

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Restaurants have been suffering through the pandemic -- with dining rooms closed, owners have been scrambling to survive.

Michael Schulson owns a dozen restaurants, and is a well-known name in the Philadelphia's food scene.

After keeping his eateries fully closed for weeks, he's slowly opening his kitchens to takeout and delivery.

"It's eerie," Schulson says. "It's eerie coming into empty restaurants."

With 12 usually bustling restaurants, at the height of Philly's dining boom, this is the first time Schulson has paused since he first opened Sampan in 2009.

"It's probably the first time in my life that I realized I don't like to be alone," he says.

Hospitality is in his DNA. When he temporarily closed all of his dining rooms on March 15, he says fear set in.

"Now, all of a sudden it's, 'What's your purpose? What's your place? What's your comfort? Where does this go tomorrow?'" he said.

Weeks went by and he wanted to get his staff working again, so he slowly started opening for takeout and delivery.

"We came back with Sampan, Double Knot, and Giuseppe and Sons last Wednesday," he said.

This week, he's adding Harp and Crown, Osteria and the newly opened Via Locusta.

He doesn't mince words.

"It's just sad, it's sad," he says. "It's going to be very different in this city than it was a month ago when we open up."

He says serving food again, even in this limited capacity, is lifting some of the depression and anxiety.

"You see the guests there, the people waiting in line for food are smiling, they are happy," he said.

He's also been sharing some of his recipes on Instagram.

But he says the road back is going to take all of us coming together.

"Support the local restaurants," he says. "Otherwise there will be a lot of empty storefronts in the city."
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