'Coronavirus is changing the landscape of hospitality forever': Chef of Durham restaurant closed by 2019 gas explosion speaks on COVID-19

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Nearly a year after a natural gas explosion rocked the streets of Durham, businesses downtown now have to deal with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Doors are closed that had only been open for a couple of months.

"Coronavirus is changing the landscape of hospitality forever," said Matt Kelly, owner and chef of Saint James Seafood, which had been closed for 10 months. "The explosion affected us directly."


The restaurant had just opened in January before having to face the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Being closed for 10 months didn't help us prepare financially for something like this coming up," he said. "No one can really prepare for something like this."

Kelly, who is the chef at a variety of restaurants in the Bull City including Mateo and Vin Rouge, said he has had to call 75 people this week to tell them he could no longer keep them.

"Some of these folks have worked for me for an embarrassingly long period of time and it was definitely the hardest day of my life," he said.

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A variety of restaurants in the Triangle decided to move to a take out model amid the COVID-19 crisis: Matt decided not to. He didn't think they had the resources to serve food in the safest way possible.

He's hopeful to be back again though when the time is right.

"Durham is a very supportive town," Kelly said. "The Triangle is very supportive. I think everyone is very much looking forward to normalcy."

The explosion is not something he wants to focus on.

"We're in a certain scenario with an entire sector of an industry together with people's lives and faces that will be challenged in upcoming months in a way a lot of people," he said.
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