Mt. Airy's 'Cheers' recovering after 'depressing' year

by Len Lear
Posted 4/21/21

The Mt. Airy Taproom opened on Friday the 13th (isn't that bad luck?) of September, 2019. It was doing a solid business with the Mt. Airy crowd until the pandemic struck six months after its debut.

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Mt. Airy's 'Cheers' recovering after 'depressing' year

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The Mt. Airy Taproom opened on Friday the 13th (isn't that bad luck?) of September, 2019. The new restaurant in the building that had housed the iconic Mt. Airy version of “Cheers,” i.e., Goat Hollow, from 1987 to 2004 and then again from 2013 to 2019 (with Angie Brown, a soul food restaurant, in between), was doing a solid business with the Mt. Airy crowd until the pandemic struck six months after its debut.

“Frankly, the past year was exceedingly difficult,” said owner Rob Pelszynski, 45, who lives right around the corner from the restaurant with his wife, Elizabeth, who works for a New York City think tank, and son, Jake, 3. “At times it was stressful, exhausting and depressing. The neighborhood has been extremely supportive. We would not have survived if it wasn’t for that support. The bills don’t stop, though, just because business slows down. Paying 100% of the rent on an empty restaurant for the better part of a year takes a toll.

“But we tried our best to roll with the punches. I think we’ll emerge from the pandemic stronger and better than we went into it, but it will take a long time to recover. Frankly, I don’t think we’ll ever recoup all of the costs the pandemic dumped on us. And aside from the financial strain of the pandemic, there was the psychological weight it put on us. From March 16, 2020, when the shutdown began, to today, we’ve been closed five days.

“That means that for all but five of the last 400 days, my staff and I went to work with the potential of being exposed to Coronavirus as a very possibility as we interacted with guests and each other on a daily basis. I cannot stress enough how much we owe to our staff for their dedication through this difficult time. But, knock on wood, we managed to never have any Coronavirus illnesses this entire time.”

During the first few months of the pandemic, takeout and delivery allowed the staff to keep working, but as with thousands of other restaurants, just barely above survival mode. They opened for indoor service in September when the city allowed it, but that was only at 25% capacity, and the city pulled the plug on it again in November. When they first started indoor dining, it was barely utilized.

“Between the guests and the staff,” explained Rob, “I think no one was really ready to start being up close and personal yet. When the city allowed us to resume indoor dining in January, the general mood was much different. Vaccination was a reality, and the general attitude was that things were finally getting better. Folks were much more inclined to sit indoors this time around.”

In normal times, their patio area seats around 40. Due to pandemic distancing standards, they currently have it set up for about 25, maintaining six feet between all tables. Since the weather has gotten warmer in the past few weeks, Mt. Airy Taproom has had some really busy nights recently, “but it’s a very steep hill to climb back up to go from a ‘takeout and delivery with a little bit of in-house dining’ model to being a full-fledged restaurant overnight. Staffing also creates some issues, as it’s difficult to predict business based on the weather, and it’s proving very difficult to hire new staff.”

Pelszynski is a restaurant lifer, starting as a teenage Northeast Philly resident and St. Joseph’s Prep student. His first job was as a busboy at Bay Street, where Chickie & Pete’s is now on Roosevelt Boulevard in the Northeast. He followed the trajectory that is common in the business for the relentless, ambitious workers, from busboy to server to bartender to a management position.

Pelszynski worked for Olive Garden on City Line Avenue and two Houlihan’s locations for five years and then for five more restaurants in the city, two as general manager, until taking the big plunge on his own. Mt. Airy Taproom is currently open 4 to 9 p.m. seven nights a week. Rob hopes he can soon extend the hours at night and offer brunch on weekends.

You can check out the menu at www.mountairytaproom.com or call 267-766-6668 for more information. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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