Massive winter storm forces restaurant closures

Winter storm Nemo (as called by The Weather Channel) is quickly approaching New England. The storm is expected to generate blizzard conditions and potentially dump up to 3 feet of snow in some areas, including Boston.

Nemo is following an eerily similar path as Superstorm Sandy, which hit in October. And, like its predecessor, this storm is expected to have an impact on restaurant business in the region.

Already, some brands have issued closure notices via their social media channels, including Papa Gino's and Boloco, both of which are based out of Massachusetts.

Papa Gino's posted this afternoon: "Due to winter storm Nemo, all of our restaurants have closed at 2 p.m." This news affects pizza delivery, in addition to in store dining.

Boloco initially launched a promotion for those who "brave the blizzard," offering a free mini Cajun burrito for redemption on Feb. 12 for those who purchase something today or Feb. 9.

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Boloco also stated that none of its team members are required to work during the storm and that any team member who works after the public transportation closes in Boston will be given a stipend to take a cab home. Both of these announcements were made prior to Massachusetts' ban on vehicles on the roads after 4 p.m. today.

The chain then announced that all but one of its stores closed at 2 p.m. The remaining operator said he gets a lot of pedestrian customers and also has a place to stay within walking distance.

Boston-based grilled cheese quick-service concept Cheeseboy announced that the storm will be forcing an early closure today.

Picco, an Italian/pizza concept, also closed at 2 p.m. today and announced it will remain closed until at least 4 p.m. Saturday, depending on weather and transportation.

Meanwhile, Santarpio's Pizza, which has two Boston locations, announced it is open and will stay open as long as there is power at the restaurants.

Noticeably silent thus far about the storm is Canton, Mass.-based Dunkin' Brands, parent company to Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, and Milford, Conn.-based Subway.

During Sandy, individual Dunkin' franchise owners were left to decide whether or not they were going to brave the storm and remain open.

This morning, analysts warned that restaurant operators will likely take a hit from closures this weekend, as the storm is expected to bring street traffic to a halt.

Seeking Alpha reported that Dunkin' Brands specifically could experience a drop in business, as it's heavily concentrated in the Northeast market. Other "East Coast-heavy chains" could be affected, including Cheesecake Factory, Darden Restaurants and Panera Bread.

Of particular concern are long-lasting power outages. If they linger until Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, restaurants will be hit even harder, as the holiday is typically a high-traffic occasion.

Restaurant operators who are still Sandy-weary are likely to play it safe this second time around. Unfortunately, storms of this magnitude tend to not be forgiving. Just ask Nathan's Famous, which posted a half-million drop in profits during the Q3, citing Sandy as its biggest bane. That storm forced the closing of all company-owned restaurants. Seventy-eight franchised restaurants, including 18 Branded Menu locations, also closed for varying periods of time, two of which remain closed.

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