As omicron hits, restaurateurs ’emotional rope is fraying’


Business is OK but no one feels they're out of the woods yet

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Sarah Schafer and Anna Caporael had an idea about 3 years ago for an Italian market combined with cafe and bar. But in an odd twist, the pandemic prompted the opening of Cooperativa.

A little more than a year ago Schafer and Caporael opened Cooperativa at NW 9th and Naito Parkway.

“We loved that idea of a community space where people visit throughout their day and see all of the people connected to the food that they eat,” Caporael said.

Inside Cooperativa at NW 9th and Davis in Portland, December 22, 2021 (KOIN)

Schafer said, “You can do your shopping here, you can eat here, you can have a party here, you can drink here.”

But as we head into a second winter with the COVID-19 pandemic, some restaurant owners are anxious about what’s ahead, especially with the predicted surge of omicron cases. Restaurateurs who spoke with KOIN 6 News said business, for the most part, is OK, but they feel like they’re not out of the woods.

Cooperativa is “a model we can scale up and scale down,” Schafer said. She makes the pasta by hand for people to either eat in the market or buy a bag to take home.

Cooperativa is an Italian market combined with a cafe and a bar, December 22, 2021 (KOIN)

“We took that Italian ethos of a market and expanded on that,” Caporael said. “Often you go to a market in Italy and you get to do your shopping and you get to sit and eat or catch up with a friend or have an espresso or sit and have a negroni or have a pasta dinner.”

While the co-owners said business this holiday season has been steady, there is no denying the omicron variant has had an impact.

“Once the world was going omicron, it was the same way with the delta variant, we immediately felt the hit of people not coming out of their houses,” Caporael said. “And everyone we spoke to, all of our peers in this industry and in retail, said the same.”

Inside Cooperativa at NW 9th and Davis in Portland, December 22, 2021 (KOIN)

The women pride themselves on working with an array of small local vendors. So when Cooperativa takes a hit, so do those small vendors.

“I can feel great some months about a check I write to a really small vendor knowing how much that means to them and is paying for bills,” Caporael told KOIN 6 News. “On that same token when it’s a lower sales month that’s a hit — and it’s a hit across the board. They’ve been hanging on by the skin of their teeth and that emotional rope that they’re hanging by is fraying.”

At the moment, they don’t ask people dining in for proof of vaccination. But they added it’s not out of the realm of possibility — but that would require more staff.

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