PAWTUCKET — Twenty-three years ago, Hank and Heather Macomber made a promise to Eleftherios “Lefty” Baziotis and Chris Kazianis after the original owners of Kip’s Restaurant sold the classic restaurant to the local couple.
That promise was to keep the restaurant, which has called the southwest corner of Armistice Boulevard and Newport Avenue its home for 60 years, in its original glory, serving hungry patrons the classic fare that they love – whether it’s a quick bite for breakfast before a long day’s work or one of Kip’s famed hot wieners during a lunch break.
“We made a promise to the owners and with our last breath, we will keep that,” Hank Macomber said.
And from its home at one of the most well-traveled intersections in all of Pawtucket, the iconic restaurant has endured through its share of hardships and headaches. There was the Blizzard of ’78. Hurricane Bob made landfall in 1991. In 2011 came devastating snowstorms in consecutive weekends, and Superstorm Sandy followed in 2012. All the while, Kip’s Restaurant persevered.
But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has shaken this institution and its owners like no natural disaster ever before and it’s left the Macombers wondering what kind of future, if any, will be in store for the legendary eatery once the dust settles and the smoke clears.
Gov. Gina M. Raimondo earlier this week declared that Rhode Island restaurants can only serve take-out for the next two weeks, effectively shutting dine-in restaurants as the state tries to corral the COVID-19 outbreak before it spirals out of control.
Hank Macomber said he was unsurprised by the governor’s declaration.
“A couple of weeks ago, we said it’s going to go to the point where they’re going to only allow take-out. It came to fruition,” he said from inside his empty restaurant on Wednesday afternoon, a time when Kip’s would normally be packed during the lunchtime rush. “Our hearts are broken because we’ve been here so many years. And to lose something, to have the potential to lose your business, is crushing.”
Heather Macomber, Hank’s wife and the restaurant’s co-owner, was watching the governor’s press conference on Monday while Hank slept.
She saw the governor make her declaration about restaurants and shouted to her husband: “Hank, the governor’s on and she’s shutting us down!”
But even before Raimondo’s announcement, business at Kip’s had been greatly impacted by the arrival of coronavirus to Rhode Island. In the days following the first presumed positive case of the virus in Pawtucket – which stemmed from a Saint Raphael Academy field trip to Europe – Kip’s business took an immediate eight percent drop, Hank Macomber said.
“As soon as that started, it was eight percent right off the top,” he said. “Now we’re probably 90 percent (down) because there’s no business.”
With business at an all-time low, the Macombers are turning to the federal government for assistance. They’ve applied for a Small Business Administration loan that would provide up to $50,000 at 3.25 percent, which he said will “help us get over the hump.”
“You can write the checks as you need them. It’s a line of credit, so if you don’t need it, you don’t have to use it,” he explained. “It’s just to help you pay the electric bill, the gas bill, that way you don’t get behind on everything, that way when this is all said and done, you’re not fighting an uphill battle.”
While the Macombers are extremely confident that they’ll get the SBA loan, if in the off-chance they don’t, Hank said grimly: “we’re done.”
“I sympathize with every business. We don’t have a mortgage, I can’t imagine what they’re going through. We’re probably in a better situation. We can survive a couple weeks without a loan, but after that, forget it,” he said.
The take-out business began at Kip’s on Wednesday, as the Macombers said they needed Tuesday as a day to “organize a little bit” after the governor’s announcement on Monday.
“We were so stressed out, I needed a day to take it in,” Hank said. “We were here yesterday. Anything that wasn’t good quality we threw out, which wasn’t much, thank god.”
“We have a massive fish and chip business on Friday, we hope all the people will come out,” he added. “It’s still the same good quality.”
Kip’s Restaurant will be open for take-out service only from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays. For take-out, dial 401-726-9882.
“Our sincere appreciation for your past and future patronage from the entire staff at Kips!!!” a sign at Kip’s reads.
As of this moment, Kip’s is still cash only, with an ATM machine on site, but they are in the process of potentially accepting debit and credit cards in the future. Hank Macomber also said they weighed the
potential of having their food delivered, but he ultimately decided against it, saying he wouldn’t “trust somebody I don’t know bringing my food to someone’s house.”
“We’re going to try to survive just trying to be open … Heather and I, we’re fighters, we’ve been through worse financial,” he said.
“Kip’s will be here another 60 years if we have anything to say about it,” he added.
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette