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A make-or-break season for Newton restaurants

Jamie Kaye, owner of Jamie’s on Union in Newton Centre.
Jamie Kaye, owner of Jamie’s on Union in Newton Centre.MAGGIE LEONE

After six months without hosting diners at full capacity, some Newton restaurant owners are concerned they will not make it through the winter.

Jamie Kaye, owner of Jamie’s on Union in Newton Centre (formerly the Deluxe Station Diner), said he has had a fair amount of people dining both inside and outside. But he is worried that is about to change.

“If it gets cold and people stop coming out, I’ll be gone,” he said.

Karen Masterson, co-owner of Johnny’s Luncheonette in Newton Centre , said the restaurant has not reached pre-pandemic sales since re-opening. With winter on the horizon, she said she is concerned.

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“If we don’t get adjustments in rent and see a slight increase in sales — there’ll be a lot of restaurants making very difficult choices in the next few months,” Masterson said.

Johnny’s remained open for takeout only during the state-mandated shutdowns, but when Governor Charlie Baker announced indoor dining could resume in June, she said they welcomed customers back right away.

“We feel that we are [a] really important community space,” Masterson said.

As a business owner, Masterson said she would hate for the connectivity created in establishments like Johnny’s Luncheonette to be lost to the pandemic.

“I’m a firm believer that we need human contact, and we need places to be seen and to be together and to enjoy our diversity as a community,” she said.

Masterson said restaurant owners are in “pretty dire straits.”

“If we’re going to hang on to any restaurants, this is really a make or break season,” she said.

Johnny’s Luncheonette functions mainly as a daytime establishment, aside from Friday and Saturday nights. Masterson said other restaurants in the Newton area have been looking for ways to maintain their business as fall draws to a close.

“I know many of the restaurant owners who have more nighttime focused business are really scrambling to get heaters and figure out if tents will work and how to make dining outside comfortable for people,” she said. “It’s such an unknown right now.”

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Kaye said he’s concerned for the coming months and fears that if customer numbers decline, Jamie’s and other restaurants could face permanent closure.

“It’s hard to survive,” he said. “There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not stressed out, you know, utilities and rent and insurance.”

Kaye said Jamie’s has a partnership with Boston College to show the college’s football games, which he said has been getting a lot of attention from alumni and BC fans. At first, they called the events “watch parties,” but Kaye asked that the word party be removed from the title so it would not give the wrong impression.

Kaye said he strictly follows the guidelines for safe dining set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state of Massachusetts. He has cut down the number of staff that can work at one time in order to allow for social distancing in the kitchen, and he has started using disposable plates, utensils, and condiments to minimize cross contamination.

“I was struggling to make a living completely full — now we have to make a living completely restricted,” Kaye said.

Maria DeMarco, who was eating lunch with her daughter at Johnny’s one afternoon in September, said she has been dining indoors and feels comfortable with the social distancing practices restaurants have in place.

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DeMarco said she understands the importance of supporting local restaurants and businesses now more than ever.

“I think it’s very important to keep our economy going,” she said. “For everybody’s emotional well-being and health, it’s good to go out and see other people and feel like we’re all in this together — but also like at some point, this is going to go back to normal.”

Ali Audet and Maggie Leone can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.