MANCHESTER, NH – As many restaurants around New Hampshire ceremoniously reopen May 18 for outdoor-only seating at a diminished capacity, Lenny and Nancy Abreu are in the trenches, focusing all their energy on opening their doors for the first time at the state’s first Golden Corral franchise.
A tour in early May of the buffet restaurant still under construction, part of the popular national chain, included a stop at the main electric control panel tagged and ready to connect, the kitchen area with walk-in refrigeration and the butcher’s area, bathrooms, beverage station and various seating areas.
“It looks bigger somehow with the walls going up,” said manager Don Dumont, who will be running the back of the house.
One adaptation for the new rules of restaurants is the Golden Corral On-the-Go station right inside the entrance, which will cater to those who come for pick-up or delivery service, says Lenny Abreu, who along with his wife Nancy, and their business partner, Steve Leary, have been hands-on in the daily construction and development of the eatery, located at the Shoppes at South Willow.
The first shipment of Golden Corral-branded masks have arrived, and they will be supplementing those with masks provided by the state for any business in need. Otherwise, it’s full steam ahead for a projected grand opening “very, very soon,” with a firm date yet to be announced. Abreu says he’s waiting to see what the updated guidance is from Governor Sununu after phase 1 of the 2.0 Stay Home order expires May 31.
“We know that 25-30 percent of our guests will be seniors, and they’re a vulnerable population,” he says, noting that the curbside pick-up will help in making sure guests can get their food even if the restaurant’s main buffet-style service is not available right away. Although the restaurant is built for a capacity of 344 seats, Abreu already knows that they will have to reduce their seating according to New Hampshire’s guidance, whenever they get the green light.
Across the country Golden Corral has adapted to the variations in restaurant rules, which are unique to each state. Abreu, who has been in the restaurant business in various management and ownership capacities over the past few decades, was in the middle of training when the country began locking down businesses, so this will be new – but not unfamiliar – territory for him.
“I’ve been through 9/11, SARS, H1N1 and all the other type of emergencies that affect this business. I’ve pretty much seen it all,” Abreu says. “I don’t think anyone thought [COVID-19] would be like this, but we have to put safety first, for our employees and guests.”
He acknowledges it’s a unique circumstance he’s in, opening a major chain restaurant in the midst of a global pandemic, but he is preparing to follow the guidelines and appreciates the amount of support he is getting from Golden Corral. And he’s found ways to serve the community while waiting for the restaurant construction to be completed, including donating meals to local organizations, including the Manchester VA, food he was able to provide through his Nashua-based eatery, Nancy’s Diner.
“Whatever the state tells us, we’ll do even better here, whether it’s our cleaning and sanitation, or catering to our guests to make sure they are satisfied,” Abreu says. He feels in some ways he’s able to get ahead of things because he hasn’t yet hired staff, and can adjust his opening to required guidance.
The equipment and appliances are still a few weeks out while the interior takes shape, and he says he’s expecting to start taking applications for staff during the first two weeks of June with a target of hiring 120-150 employees.
“The first thing we have to do is get our Golden Corral A team to come up and help train staff,” Abreu says. He is also waiting to see what other existing buffet-style eateries in the area, like China Buffet, are going to do. As restaurants hopefully begin to operate with indoor seating, he will incorporate cafeteria-style service instead of the trademark help-yourself buffet.
He is not yet sure about outdoor seating capacity but is looking into it. Abreu said construction delays have worked in their favor to some degree, allowing him to make some adjustments to the interior, including the addition of a closet for staff near the bathrooms where they can secure their personal items.
“That was Nancy’s idea. She pointed out that in most restaurants there’s no place for staff to keep their coats and other personal belongings during their shift, so we were able to make that adjustment,” he says.
Dumont says they likely will streamline their menu, which currently offers 175 items.
“We have time to figure it out, along with standardization of our procedures, but for the most part, we’re excited and ready for the public, no matter how that looks,” Dumont said.
Job-seekers can contact Lenny Abreu at firstname.lastname@example.org