‘There’s Nothing That Prepared Me For The Last Couple Weeks’

George DiMeglio, left, was forced to furlough 14 of his staff of 20 on March 17 in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. Emily Broome, right, is one of those furloughed servers.

Courtesy of George DiMeglio, left, and Emily Broome, right

The restaurant industry was hit hard and quickly by the coronavirus pandemic as restaurants were forced to shift to take-out only options.

A mano, an Italian restaurant in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward is no exception. Its owner, George DiMeglio was forced to furlough 14 of his staff of 20 on March 17 and transition to exclusively to-go orders.

“While there’s challenges, don’t get me wrong…there’s nothing that prepared me for the last couple weeks,” DiMeglio said.

Read more: “What Now? Telling Stories About Work And The Coronavirus >>

Leading up to the furloughs, he said his business model changed daily as public health guidance changed.

“It was as agonizing of an experience I’ve ever had,” he said. “Trying to find that point where you could ensure the safety of those around you.”

When he realized the dining room would have to close and told his employees about the decision, he said they seemed to understand.

“There’s a degree of numbness I think of what’s going to happen next. If you’re overly sensitive to it, it’s going to hurt that much more,” he said. “None of our emotions have fully caught up to the experiences we’ve been going through. I think that’s probably part of it.”

Emily Broome, one of DiMeglio’s furloughed servers, agreed.

“I can’t wake up and cry about it,” she said. “I just have to keep moving and just try to be normal. And be grateful that I’m not sick. Grateful nobody I know is sick. Grateful for the things I have.”

Broome began working at a mano a month before it opened, about three years ago.

“Everybody in the restaurant, they’re all like my family,” she said. “We’re all just trying to figure out what to do.”

“Right before this happened I had so much forward momentum: in school, at a mano, at my house. So many things were just coming together and going in the direction I’ve worked hard for them to go,” she said.

Broome is nearing graduating with her accounting degree and had planned on a summer internship. She said she’s only heard negative answers so far, because of the pandemic.

“Now it’s like, it’s not even been diverted. It’s just been like when you cut a plant down at its roots. Just gone,” she said. “And whatever happens after this is going to be different. I don’t know how it’s going to go back to normal.”

Broome said even with maximum unemployment benefits and federal relief, she will have to defer certain bills and payments in the short term.

“I’m very unsure of what’s going to happen,” she said. “I’m really just relying on utility people and credit card people and my mortgage lender to understand what’s happening to everybody.”

DiMeglio raised thousands of dollars in donations from customers to help his employees in the short term.

“I don’t think we’ve been to the bottom to know how we’re going to climb out yet,” he said about where things go from here. “I haven’t met a person that doesn’t seem to be optimistic. The beautiful spring weather here in Atlanta certainly helps that.”