Alongside his business partner, Sachin Patel, Scott Parrish has owned restaurants in Athens for 20 years. Throughout that time, no event has come close to prompting the immediate changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has demanded of the restaurant industry.
The Red & Black talked to Parrish about changes made to The Pine Restaurant and Bar (now The Pine Bar), el Barrio’s patio, “the new normal” and the Athens community.
Red & Black: Can you explain the recent changes made to The Pine?
Scott Parrish: So we pivoted into more of a tapas, small plate, wine bar-type restaurant, opposed to the full-service, entree-type restaurant that The Pine was. The Pine Bar is wood-fired oysters, cheese and charcuterie boards with an extensive wine list.
R&B: How have things been at The Pine Bar since that shift?
SP: So far, so good. Yesterday [Sept. 2] was technically the first day. I think people like it, and my business partner and I have been a part of the Five Points community for 20 years. People are very supportive of our establishment.
R&B: You’re also the owner of el Barrio, how is it doing? I saw the hours were extended and the patio was expanded.
SP: El Barrio benefits from having that large outside dining area. It has done well, but we’re at 40% occupancy. We can normally set up the restaurant for 108 seats, and the patio is set for 36. It’s been good for what it is, but we’re nowhere near where it was.
R&B: With that, where do you see the restaurant industry headed in Athens?
SP: We talk about “the new normal.” The new normal is a real thing. Less seating, more social distancing, the curbside pickup and to-go game will increase. It will definitely change the restaurant business, I think for the better. We’re all more conscious of washing our hands, not shaking other people’s hands. We should’ve been cautious the whole time. This has shined light on general practices in the restaurant world — wash your hands, don’t touch your mouth, stuff like that. In the restaurant world, we’re trained to do that. Now the consumer is starting to do things like that. It’s a good thing.
R&B: What is your message to the Athens community as you go through this with your restaurants?
SP: Support local. We’re fighting to keep the lights on and keep our employees between The Pine, The Root, el Barrio, the 11th Pin at Showtime Bowl and our spot in Watkinsville, The Pub on Main. We, as a company, SP2 Hospitality, have over 80 employees. It’s so we can pay our bills, and keep our staff paid. The message is to continue supporting local.
R&B: In a previous Red & Black article, it discussed how support for local businesses was strong at the beginning of the pandemic, but now it’s tapering off. Have you experienced that?
SP: I have not. I think that people definitely were super supportive when we first opened. That new normal I was talking about — people are finding their way into it. More restaurants are starting to open back up, so they’re bouncing around and trying to spend money at each place. The support that we have gotten through this has been overwhelming. It’s really fantastic to see the community come together and support small businesses. It’s been very flattering to know that when the restaurant world got slapped in the face, people understood and they helped. We’re very thankful to be in Athens and to be part of this community.
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.