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A lot has changed at Gridiron Restaurant with the pandemic

Schan Martin said his collection of autographed helmets was the inspiration for opening Gridiron in 2006.

Story and photos by Nathan Tsukroff, PortraitEFX

With a lack of business due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Schan Martin, who owns the Gridiron Restaurant and Pub on Lisbon Street in Lewiston with his wife, Kim, put himself on layoff to leave more working hours for his employees.

Before the pandemic, “We were busy, pretty much all the time,” Martin said. And then, “Things were going great, the pandemic hit (and) things changed a little!”

Actually, things changed a lot at Gridiron. On March 17, “We shut everything down completely, because we thought it was only going to be a two-week thing. So I was like, let’s just clean up everything, get it done. Then we’ll come back and everything will be back to normal,” he said.

However, the State of Maine increased the restrictions, and Gridiron didn’t open again until the last week of May.

“We had zero business” for the two months the restaurant was closed, Martin said.

With the reopening, he is working fewer hours because “I gave up my position for my employees, so I could keep them busy,” Martin said. “I’m not doing the physical cooking, which I really enjoy,” he said. “The kitchen is my home. That’s where I’m most comfortable! I enjoy it.”

As with other restaurants, Gridiron reopened in stages. “When we first opened up, we just opened up as take-out, because that’s what they allowed us to do,” he said. “And then when they allowed us to open to have some guests outdoors, we did that.”

“We’ve been very lucky with staff. Our staff has stuck with us,” Martin said. Employees have been very loyal, and Gridiron only lost a couple of employees, he said. Before the pandemic, about 40 people worked full- and part-time, and this has dropped to about 35 as Gridiron reopened with its limited seating.

  Martin said some employees left because of the “normal day-to-day business that would have happened” even without the pandemic restrictions, so he didn’t have to fire any staff due to the lack of business. “I couldn’t do that! We were able to just let them go and didn’t have to refill their position.”

“I have more people than I need right now, but we want to keep them going,” Martin said.

Thanks to a large parking lot, Gridiron was able to expand outdoor seating for between 50 and 70 guests at a time. “We have tables of eight,” Martin said, and Gridiron socially-distances the groups of guests as they arrive.

Overall, Gridiron has room for about 150 guests at a time, between the outdoor patio seating and the various rooms indoors.

A helpful kickstart to reopening Gridiron was the state’s permission to allow bars and restaurants to sell beer and wine for take-out in original manufacturer’s sealed containers. This “was a huge help” with the take-out busines at the restaurant, he said. “It helped keep the lights on, that’s for sure!”

Take-out sales of beer and wine have slowed down as restaurants have been allowed to open for indoor seating. Gridiron allows “some guests at the bar” with proper-social distancing, Martin said.

Business has slowed down a little during the summer, Martin said. “We went up when we opened, and now we’re starting to see a slight downturn. More restaurants are opening up, more outdoor activities are going on.”

He’s also seen more cars at private houses, which he believes are for house parties. Plus, sports are only just starting to ramp up again, and many of his older guests appear to be staying home for their own safety.

Gridiron appeals to older guests with its “volume of food, for the price they can get it at,” Martin said. But, “I don’t think a lot of people want to be out here wearing masks,” which Gridiron requires for all their guests under state mandates. A box of complimentary masks sits on a table at the front entrance.

Gridiron has not had any issues with Covid-19 contamination during the pandemic, Martin said.

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