Union house Maggie O’Brien’s closed ahead of COVID-19 mandates to protect customers

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Owner Eddie McVey: ‘In the very big scheme of things, my business is secondary.’

MAGGIE O'BRIEN'S NORMALLY is a hotspot on St. Patrick’s Day. This photo, taken at a previous year’s celebration, shows the vast number of people who usually flock to the restaurant. This year, owner Eddie McVey closed the restaurant prior to a formal mandate from the City of St. Louis to protect the health safety of his customers and employees.

Downtown St. Louis Maggie O’Brien’s Irish Pub at 20th and Market streets, closed its doors the day before St. Patrick’s Day in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure was a hard hit on what is traditionally the biggest day of the year for the all-union restaurant, ranked among the top 10 Irish pubs in the state.

Eddie McVey, owner of the 40-year-old Market Street icon, said he was just doing the right thing, even before the City of St. Louis issued a mandate for bars and restaurants to close to sit-down business. Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced a statewide directive on March 21.

“That Monday morning (the day before St. Pat’s Day), I told my managers to put it out early that we’re not going to be open,” McVey said. “I was just trying to do the right thing. I’m part of the community. It was a tough thing to do because what is usually my best month of the year became my worst.”

CUSTOMER AND EMPLOYEE SAFETY
McVey said he kept getting mixed messages about the safe number of people who could be allowed in one place, and he knew the St. Patrick’s Day crowd would be a big one.

“Every day it was one, two, three, notices about the number of people who could gather in one place,” McVey said. “I was trying to stay within the guidelines. At some point the city was 1,000 people, then they agreed on 50. I could see the forest through the trees, and I just I couldn’t do St. Patrick’s Day events.”

Even with the downtown location closed, McVey said operating his Sunset Hills Maggie O’Brien’s location for carry-outs only is allowing him to keep some of his main managers on, but at least 75 other staff members are out of work right now. He said Sunset Hills is doing some different things, like carry-out family-style dinners, to sustain itself. He said he’s still getting some catering orders, but most of that business has been crushed as well.

‘EVERYONE IS GOING THROUGH IT’
“I wish I could help every one of my employees,” McVey said. “Sometimes you feel like you’re whining, and as much as you are, it doesn’t stop the fact that everyone is going through it. And in the very big scheme of things, my business is secondary. It’s about everyone who is trying to stay safe and healthy.

“You just try to figure it out every day,” he said. “I understand how it’s necessary, but it’s crippling. Everything’s gone. I’d have been better off if our electricity had gone out and all of our meat went bad.”

McVey said the economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic began with the cancellations last month of the Pearl Jam and Zac Brown Band concerts, and the cancelation of events at Enterprise Center, two blocks east of Maggie’s downtown location. The suspension of the National Hockey League season and cancellation of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, both held at Enterprise, were like a double body blow, he said.

WHO WILL SURVIVE?
With the coronavirus shutting everything down, the general public might assume restaurants and other business owners have insurance to cover their losses. But he says most such insurance policies don’t cover events like a pandemic. McVey said he is not insured against a global health crisis, “as much as I wish we were.”

“We’re just trying to wade through this the best we can,” he said. “You either survive it, or you don’t.”

McVey said when all of this is over and restaurants are able to open again, probably 75 percent won’t make it.

“It’s hard when you’re closed for a month or two, then reopen. You need capital to do that, and you need funds to pay your workers. It’s just a very hard thing to do after you’ve lost so much income.”

HOW TO SUPPORT LOCAL RESTAURANTS
The Missouri Restaurant Association says while recent government orders and recommendations to limit social gatherings have forced most restaurants to change the way they operate, the commitment to food safety and sanitation has not changed.

The Association has created a resource at carryoutmo.com where customers can find out if their favorite restaurant is providing carry-out service.

Southern Illinois Eats has put together a list of restaurants that are offering curbside service or deliveries at southernillinoiseats.com.


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