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‘Without the assistance of the state, we’re not going to survive’

‘Our business wasn’t built for something like this,’ says Emma Hollander from Trina’s Starlite Lounge

Emma Hollander runs Parlor Sports and Trina's Starlite Lounge in Cambridge.
Emma Hollander runs Parlor Sports and Trina's Starlite Lounge in Cambridge.Handout

Emma Hollander, 36, is managing partner at Inman Square’s Parlor Sports and Trina’s Starlite Lounge, neighborhood mainstays that are now closed, without takeout or delivery service. After a lifetime of 12-hour days, she’s adjusting to staying home — and worrying about her 37 workers.

How have you spent the past two weeks?

We closed last Monday [March 16]. The thing about this is there’s no right answer. We thought the city would have shut us down before we made the decision. Unfortunately, for us, there’s just no amount of takeout that we can do at our price point for any of us to be working. And we started getting concerned about our staff’s safety. Most don’t drive. They take public transportation. We felt that it was putting them and the community at risk. We closed mid-service.


Why mid-service?

One, there was nobody there. It was empty. Two, the staff was really on edge. It’s tough to tell people that they’re getting laid off, then they have to act like everything’s OK and be the nicest people in the world. Our staff was killer through this thing, but at some point, you have to take a step back. These are human beings who are also feeling things, too. And it’s not just about their feelings; it’s their safety. A lot of people are trying to balance between business and keeping people safe. Just because you’re doing your jobs doesn’t mean you can’t still get sick. This virus doesn’t seem to discriminate against anybody.

Boston is pretty notorious, in the bar world, for finding a reason to get hammered. We were concerned that once the government shut down the city, people would start streaming over into Cambridge. All the bars in Boston were shut down, and it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend. I saw it getting messy pretty quick. If we’re going to cram in a bunch of drunk people, it defeats the purpose. For the safety of everyone involved, we just shut it down.


What sort of emotional toll does this take?

It’s a roller coaster. It’s like when somebody dies: You try and forget about it, and you’re like, ‘OK, don’t keep thinking about this; don’t keep thinking about this,’ and then you forget for a little bit. You’re happy and go about your normal life, and then you remember again. Well, this sucks. I have three friends staying at my house. I have entertainment, which is nice. I live by myself, so it’s a good change of pace, so I don’t go completely crazy. Starlite’s fridge has an Instagram account, so I’ve been running the account from my house, which has kept me entertained. We may paint or clean the restaurant. This whole work-from-home thing isn’t for our business. It’s not for our career path.

How about the financial toll?

I mean, that’s the biggest issue everyone is having. Are we going to have jobs? There are restaurants that won’t make it out of this, which is devastating. If you’re a legal American citizen, you can file for unemployment, which will give you half of your salary, which is fine, if you’re not going anywhere. Everyone I know has had issues with the website. It was built in the 1990s and not built for the entire city to be claiming at the same time.


It’s tough because everybody in the restaurant business is different. Plenty have been saving money and have x amount in a savings account, and I know plenty of people living paycheck to paycheck and who have kids. Nobody was expecting this. The thing about this is, it increased so quickly, nobody was expecting it. We didn’t have a week’s notice. The Saturday before, we weren’t saying we had to shut down. We didn’t think it would get to this point. The unknown is the scariest for everyone involved, especially if you’re an undocumented immigrant. You don’t get unemployment, and they make up such a large part of our community.

What do you wish could happen now, policy-wise?

I think that small businesses really need assistance. Without the assistance of the state, we’re not going to survive. Everyone is still paying rent on these buildings that we’re not making any income out of. I think we’ve been in this emergency for long enough that we need to start putting policies in play. This isn’t day 3; it’s the second week, and people need to start calling it. Our rent will be due soon, for workers personally, and for our business. We’re still expected to pay our rent on our building.

What’s tough is that, especially for restaurants, we’re going into summer. This is typically a quiet season for us. We see a 75 percent slowdown in the summer. If you’re not in a tourist spot, you’re going into a slow season. We need money. Our business wasn’t built for something like this.


What would you like to say to your customers?

I think the general public underestimates how much we don’t want to stay home. Our bodies aren’t built for this. We’re used to being social and making people happy and running around 12 hours a day. People keep being like, ‘I miss this server; I miss this dish.’ We miss it just as much, if not more.

What’s your greatest fear?

Other than the people I love getting sick and dying? Us not reopening. I don’t believe we will get into a situation like that, but at this point, it’s such uncharted territory. Who actually knows what will happen?

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.