Despite pandemic precautions, Bristol Bay eateries adapt to make ends meet

Apr 28, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated restaurants across the country. But some small eateries, like the Bristol Bay Diner in Dillingham and the Red Dog Inn in Naknek, have found ways to stay open.

Ryan Giordano chops vegetables in the kitchen of the Bayside Diner. Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
Credit Brian Venua/KDLG

The COVID-19 pandemic has decimated restaurants across the country. But some small Bristol Bay eateries have found ways to stay open.

Tom McCulloch runs the Bayside Diner and hotel in Dillingham. He said it has reduced employee hours to make up for lost revenue.

A worker at Bayside Diner. Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
Credit Brian Venua/KDLG

“For the most part they’ve been working part time for the last 12 months and that can’t last for too much longer. It’s not healthy,” he said.

The diner has lost around 75% of its annual sales due to the pandemic. McCulloch attributes that loss to closing the diner to indoor business last year due to COVID-19 health and safety precautions.

“I had plans to reopen during that period of time, but reacting to the sensitivity of the community, we decided not to do that,” he said.

The diner is now open to indoor dining, and McCulloch hopes the change will help the business as they head into the summer.

“We’re getting to the point where we have to take advantage of any opportunity that we can to keep our staff gainfully employed,” he said.

COVID-19 restrictions have also affected the Red Dog Inn in Naknek. Owner Melissa Mancuso said they need the extra revenue that comes from the busy fishing season to stay afloat.

The Red Dog Inn's Facebook picture, uploaded in 2014.
Credit Courtesy of Red Dog Inn

“Having a slow winter is typical, but we really look forward to the spring and summer to make the big bucks when the influx of fishermen and cannery workers come into the village,” she said.

While the Bristol Bay Borough has loosened some of its requirements for travelers, processors expect to maintain COVID-19 rules similar to last year. Mancuso said that while she’s excited to have fishermen back, safety is her top priority.

“The fishermen, I’m told, should have a little bit more freedom this year and I’m really looking forward to that business of course, but safety first," she said. "Our cleaning protocols have definitely changed dramatically – I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Red Dog so clean, so that’s exciting.”

Mancuso said she got vaccinated to stay as safe as possible, as fishing draws near and more people come to the community.

“My husband and I were really eager to get the vaccine, us being in the social life of owning a bar and constant interaction with people," she said. "Whatever we can do to be as safe as we can, and that vaccine we believe is the best bet. Just about everyone I know has decided to get the vaccine in the village.”

Seafood industry workers typically start to arrive in the region in May. But if processors keep COVID-19 restrictions in place, workers – and businesses – may face another slow summer.

Correction: Melissa Mancuso is an owner of Red Dog Inn, not Winnie Alford as originally reported.

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