When the COVID-19 pandemic led to restaurants being restricted from offering traditional indoor, sit-down service, Jerry and the Mermaid — the popular East Main Street seafood restaurant that’s been in downtown Riverhead since 1994 -— didn’t let it get them down.
Instead, they quickly adapted and began offering a $50 produce box to the public at cost and transitioned the business toward curbside pickup and deliveries along with grocery items.
Soon, Jerry Dicecco Jr., who owns the restaurant along with his father, Jerry Sr., began selling cartons of eggs, toilet paper and wholesale produce to stay afloat, something he said he never imagined he’d be doing.
He also began providing fully catered meals to first responders at Peconic Bay Medical Center, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance and others on numerous occasions.
Meanwhile, at The Cooperage Inn in Baiting Hollow, Jonathan Perkins had decided to call it quits temporarily in mid-March when Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced restaurants across New York State could only offer takeout or delivery. His restaurant, he had said, wasn’t built for takeout.
But the kitchen quickly came back to a life with a renewed purpose: preparing meals for hospital workers at PBMC. What began as an initial request from the hospital to purchase lunch turned into a long effort for the The Cooperage Inn staff to prepare more than 30 meals a day for PBMC staff.
For their efforts to support local health care workers and their perseverance to adapt and survive during the pandemic, Mr. Dicecco and Mr. Perkins are the News-Review’s Businesspeople of the Year for 2020.
Garrett Moore, a Riverhead High School history teacher and neighbor of Jerry and the Mermaid, nominated Mr. Dicecco for the award. “Jerry and his limited staff went above and beyond to pack dozens of produce boxes with fresh fruits and vegetables that he would personally load into customers’ cars through his contactless curbside pickup system,” Mr. Moore wrote.
“As the weeks in the pandemic dragged on, Jerry adapted, and he soon changed up some of his produce options and then implemented a meat box with all sorts of restaurant-quality meats. The community reacted and people wanted more so Jerry evolved again with ‘The Full Jerry,’ which included both boxes and a bottle of wine. My family looked forward to pickup day at Jerry’s. We would order takeout and pick up our boxes to make it through the week.”
Mr. Perkins said earlier this year that the misfortune became an opportunity to do good. And The Cooperage Inn came back to life because of it.
The donations inspired him to offer takeout and the restaurant transformed its popular Easter brunch into a takeout event for the holiday.
Mr. Dicecco told the News-Review in April that, when the outbreak began in early March, the uncertainty amid a state-mandated closure forced him to lay off the entire 12-person winter staff.
“It affected me mentally,” he said at the time. “We found out we had to close that night and had no idea what to do tomorrow.”
He estimated business to be down by 70% from what it normally was.
Between launching the grocery pickup service and routinely cooking meals to feed first responders and hospital workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, Mr. Dicecco said he’s been able to offer jobs back to seven employees.
“Giving them an opportunity to come back is like the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said at the time.
Mr. Dicecco also worked through social media and a network of local restaurant owners to help them to adapt their businesses, Mr. Moore wrote.
Mr. Dicecco made little to no money from the produce and meat-box service, Mr. Moore recalled. “But he felt a responsibility to his community and his distributors to provide food when there was a shortage,” he wrote.
By June, the state had entered “phase 2” of the reopening plan for businesses in New York State, and restaurants were allowed to have outdoor dining, in addition to takeout service and deliveries. “As we all adjust as best as we can to this new normal, Jerry continues to innovate,” Mr. Moore wrote. “Jerry has adapted his restaurant with digital menus, added additional outdoor seating, and has implemented a pickup window for takeout with touchless payment options. While business will not be the same for our local eateries for a while, I am confident that Jerry and the Mermaid will come out of this pandemic stronger than ever.
“Jerry Jr. and Jerry Sr. have the support of the community, and people remember how young Jerry and his staff were there for them during the worst of the pandemic, and they are now patronizing the business as they are eager to get out and experience some resemblance of a normal meal out.”
2019: Beth Hanlon
2018: Anthony Meras
2017: Irwin Garsten
2016: PeraBell Food Bar East
2015: Jim and Barbara Cromarty
2014: Riverhead’s craft brewers
2013: April Yakaboski
2012: Richard Stabile
2011: Dennis McDermott and Kayleigh & Tahir Baig
2010: Dee Muma
2009: J. Gordon Huszagh
2008: Ray Pickersgill
2007: Ray Maynard
2006: Jack Van de Wetering
2005: Jeff Hallock and Dr. Frank Arena
2004: Massoud Family
2003: Andrew Mitchell
2002: Christine & Peter Loew, EastEnders Coffee House
2001: Jan Burman
2000: Fred Terry
1999: Jim Bissett, Joseph Petrocelli
1998: Swezey’s Department Store
1997: Pat Frankenbach
1996: Chip Cleary
1995: Ed Merz
1994: Bill Talmage
1993: Joe Fischer
1992: Liz Strebel
1991: Barry Barth
1990: Bobby Goodale
1989: Mike Kent
1988: Stan Hagler