NORTH SMITHFIELD – It’s been a tough year for restaurants, as state-mandated limits have decreased seating capacity, and virus fears have kept many potential customers away.
But at one local business, an outdoor pavilion has helped to keep the orders coming – and is now serving as a small venue for safe weekend entertainment.
Lindy’s Tavern owner Ron Carter says the restaurant’s plastic-covered, heated outdoor pavilion has helped the business survive – and even thrive – amid unprecedented challenges.
“It’s helped, believe me,” Carter told NRI NOW this week. “The outside seating is a big plus. People are liking it, and they’re using it.”
First opened in Forestdale in the 1950s, Lindy’s Tavern was originally located in a small space at 82 School St., and named after original owner Linda Richer. Carter says he drank his very first beer at the old establishment, not knowing he would someday become the owner.
Carter purchased the business in 2006 and after a three-year closure opened a new Lindy’s. Under his management, the restaurant has since become known as one of the top spots for casual, affordable dining in northern Rhode Island, offering not only the staple burgers and sandwiches, but also seafood dishes, with overflowing plates of fried whole belly clams, scallops, chowder and changing daily specials.
By the time Carter purchased a new property for a planned expansion in 2016, guests were crowding into the small dining space at Lindy’s even on weekdays, making it a tough place to find a seat.
The new spot – a former VFW building just a short drive down the road from the original location – would give the business long-needed space to spread out. But first, Carter would perform a full renovation, a project that took two years.
The restaurant has continued to grow at a new, massive lot at 98 School St., thanks to increased seating capacity, a large bar and modern kitchen that could crank our Carter’s popular dishes.
And last year when COVID-19 hit the region, he was an early adapter of the mantra, “take it outside.”
Plastic panels were added to an outdoor pavilion on the property, keeping guests safe from the elements even as indoor seating capacity was limited to 30 percent.
“We’ve been using the pavilion outside for extra seating,” Carter said. “That was a big help.”
Over the past few months, he has added entertainment to the Lindy’s menu, with events such as open mic nights and musical bingo.
In recent weeks, he’s also been booking bands.
“We’re trying to bring a little music in on the weekends now that the weather’s breaking,” Carter said. “I’m trying to ease into it slowly.”
For the first weekend in April, the Lindy’s pavilion, nicknamed the “Plastic Palace,” has a full schedule. On Friday night, the restaurant will host musical bingo from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., with gift certificates as prizes.
Saturday afternoons are for live entertainment, with music typically starting around 2:30 p.m. On Saturday, April 3, a popular Burrillville-based act, The Live Music Band, will play from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Locals are invited to, “let their talent shine,” on Sunday afternoon when Lindy’s holds an open mic from 1 to 5 p.m., hosted by Don Colt.
And the business has found additional ways to stay relevant through capacity limits, closures and uncertainty that have made other restaurants close their doors.
Carter’s friend runs the business’s social media with a Facebook page that dubbed Lindy’s food, “A taste of normal,” early on. The active page features daily specials, humorous posts and a countdown of how many days it’s been since COVID-19 turned the world upside down.
For those who’ve lost track, Thursday, April 1 marked day 381, according to the restaurant.
It’s a strategy that’s kept the longtime restaurant owner hopeful as vaccines roll out and Rhode Island finally begins to reopen.
“We’e been hanging in there,” Carter said. “They more that they open, the better. “Things are coming back.”