Amene Jennai has seen what the pandemic can do to a restaurant.
As general manager of The Green Turtle in Burtonsville when COVID-19 hit, he saw his income plummet.
“It was unprecedented. We didn’t know what next week would bring,” said Jennai, also known as AJ.
But the restaurant pivoted and prioritized takeout. Take-out orders that once made up little revenue have grown to make up a good chunk of profits, Jennai said. They have adapted to a new normal.
Now he’s taking that experience and 20 years of industry knowledge and bringing it to New Market, where he’s helping to re-open the former Vintage restaurant as managing partner. The establishment will be called Vintage-Eats.
Jennai is excited to bring another version of Vintage back to the locals. He was touched by the reactions the restaurant received on social media when it announced plans to reopen in January.
“The opportunity is perfect,” he said, standing inside the building at 8 W. Main St. on Friday.
Farmhouse-style wooden tables provide a gathering place for larger families, while smaller tables provide the setting for a more intimate meal. Bar and lounge seating will also be available. Vintage decor touches and warm lights fill the space.
Jennai commented on how lucky he is to have a restaurant that doesn’t need to be built from scratch.
While Jennai acknowledges that COVID-19 continues to present a level of uncertainty, he hopes restaurants have put their worst days behind them.
“The industry is coming out of COVID, hopefully,” he said.
He described the forward-looking menu as elevated comfort food with something for everyone, open Wednesday through Sunday for dinner with brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. They hope to open in early spring.
Jennai envisions Vintage-Eats to be a place where customers can enjoy hearty, rich dishes like steaks and seafood, but also a selection of small plates, as well as gluten-free and vegetarian options. Their newly hired chef has a background in fine casual cooking and recently worked at a country club.
If their price could be measured in dollars, Jennai said he expects Vintage-Eats to be between $$ and $$$.
Although Vintage may be older, Jennai said customers can expect the food to be fresh. Staff plan to source seasonal local foods and Jennai is already working on forming partnerships with other local businesses such as Linganore Wines.
There will also be 16 taps of beer, as well as cocktails – a facet of the restaurant that Jennai is particularly excited about. He became a bartender the same week he turned 21 and has over a dozen years of experience behind the bar.
Jennai stressed that Vintage-Eats will strive to provide cuisine suitable for a variety of guests – whether you’re looking to feed the family after work, take your loved one on a date or rent a space to a baby shower.
He hopes the restaurant will employ 25 to 30 people. He’s looking to hire both the student who needs pocket money and the career-oriented person who wants to make a living in restaurants.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Jennai would like to serve 250-300 people on a busy night.
He knows there’s a lot he can’t plan for, but he intends to listen to community feedback and stay prepared to adapt.
“I hope to meet a lot of people,” he said. “We are all thrilled to be part of this community.”
Follow Mary Grace Keller on Twitter: @MaryGraceKeller