GREENSBORO — One of the city’s longest running restaurants has become another casualty of the coronavirus.
While many restaurants have reopened once the state lifted the restriction for dine-in, Southern Lights Bistro at 2415 Lawndale Drive did not. And now it never will.
“We’re already at the tightest margins. To think I can do OK at 50% is just not a reality,” said owner John Drees.
“You can’t say social distancing and bistro in the same sentence and make any sense of it.”
Drees said he was also concerned about the safety of his clientele and the safety of his business partners, both of whom are in a high-risk demographic for complications from COVID-19.
He said he considered zoom wine tastings and chef classes, takeout and delivery.
“There’s a hundred great ways to reinvent a full-service restaurant, but none of them are actually running a full-service restaurant which is what I signed up for.”
Drees signed up for it 35 years ago when he started working at a new bistro that opened in a former college bar on Smyres Place. Southern Lights was a breath of fresh air for the city with its intimate setting, signature sandwiches and salads, blackboard specials, a well-regarded wine list and impeccable staff. Drees said he became a junior partner in 1989 and almost 10 years ago, he took over the restaurant, moved it to the Shops at Kirkwood and tweaked the name.
But now a pandemic he sees no end to doesn’t translate to a profit when he feels customers are not going to eat out. And he doesn’t want to borrow money to keep his restaurant on life support.
“Unfortunately restaurants are going to be the next hot spot (for the virus) because you can’t wear a mask and eat and drink wine,” Drees said.
“I don’t see restaurants recovering any time soon.”
At 56, Drees knows he’ll be back, he just doesn’t know when.
“I’m not done. I’m just switching gears and changing chapters.”