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Mayor Walsh lays out guidelines for restaurants to sell groceries

It’s another lifeline for struggling eateries in Boston.

A grocery pack was assembled last week at Earls Kitchen + Bar, one of the Somerville restaurants that is now selling groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

On Friday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced that the City of Boston will begin allowing restaurant owners to sell groceries out of their storefronts for delivery, curbside pickup, and takeout, offering eateries another financial lifeline during the coronavirus shutdown.

“It was a request that came from restaurateurs and customers, and it may cut down on the number of essential trips outside the home as well,” Walsh said during a press conference Friday afternoon.

The move comes on the heels of last week’s announcement from Mayor Joe Curtatone that Somerville would allow the practice. Other local municipalities, including Arlington, have also encouraged such sales as a way to offset the steep financial losses incurred by area restaurants during the crisis.


Boston lays out guidelines for restaurants to sell groceries
Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced that the City of Boston will begin allowing restaurant owners to sell groceries out of their storefronts. (Photo: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Pool, Video: Handout)

According to the proposal, restaurants would have to apply for permits through the city’s Inspectional Services Department, and follow all state and federal guidelines with regard to sale of products. As part of the application, restaurateurs would need to submit a health, safety, and operations plan to ensure the safety of their workers, and an outline of the list of goods they intend to sell.

Walsh said he expects that the city will be able to turn around applications in just a day.

The Massachusetts Restaurant Association’s president Bob Luz has been telling restaurants to sell groceries to help stave off their losses, saying that their common victualler licenses allow them to sell goods directly to the public. Luz said he was in touch with the city’s Inspectional Services Department earlier this week, encouraging Boston officials to allow the practice.

“This allows restaurants to provide their neighborhoods with a local no-contact option to pick up high-quality food products as opposed to traveling to large supermarkets and having to interact with many others,” Luz said. “It also provides restaurants another small chance, besides simply takeout, to keep their lights on and offer employment opportunities to their valued staff.”


For Irene Li, the owner of the Chinese-American restaurant Mei Mei, the guidelines offer some clarity after a few complicated weeks. She started selling groceries to restaurant and health care workers shortly after the shutdown, but was told to cease sales by an Inspectional Services agent who reached out earlier this month. In the meantime, she’s been offering takeout and virtual dumpling classes and working with nonprofit Off Their Plate, serving 1,200 meals to front-line workers.

She said that the new guidelines will help her increase revenue and cash flow, because she’ll be able to do more sales with less labor, as she’s staffing the restaurant with only three people at a time. And she’s glad it’s an additional service she can offer her customers.

“The guests who are coming in from takeout are so loyal, and we want to be able to offer them more,” she said. "If they can skip a trip to the grocery store because they got ground beef and toilet paper from us, that would be a thoughtful addition to what we’re doing.”

Janelle Nanos can be reached at janelle.nanos@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @janellenanos.