Dawn Bruckner said that even when the pandemic first hit, she never considered closing. “With the food supply getting super hinky, I knew our farmers would always be there, and we would be able to get the best ingredients to [our customers].” And her customers responded graciously to her remaining open.
“There was just a huge outpouring. People I hadn’t seen in years were coming in, asking ‘Are you guys okay? What do you need?’” Bruckner said. “They were buying things and were grateful we were open because they could get better produce, better food, better meat. It was amazing, and I was like, ‘Wow, I think we’re really going to get through this.’”
But on Thursday, the owner of La Belle Aurore bistro in Niantic, sent out a plea to her customers asking for their help.
“We’re losing the battle, and we really need your help,” she wrote. “We don’t need a donation, we don’t need a standing date night with La Belle every week, (though if you’re game, we’re in!) Just pick up a zucchini cookie, or a salad, grab a bag of nuts—some fresh local milk, a scone. Come in and say ‘hi’—but don’t leave empty handed.”
Bruckner said that her business had been holding up well until her customers fell into a routine and stopped coming in.
“Mother’s Day was super busy, and then people just kind of got into a routine [which has] always been a problem with us,” she said. “A lot of times the locals don’t come here in the summer cause they think we’re inundated with summer people, which we aren’t generally.”
As La Belle Aurore started to struggle more and more over the months, Bruckner decided it was time to let her customers know.
“Places close all the time, and everybody goes, ‘Oh my god… I didn’t know… I can’t believe they closed… I love that place.’ And you see this outpouring of affection,” she said. “I was like I gotta give a warning shot, like I don’t think we’re going to make it if people don’t come in.”
Four hours after she sent out the email, Bruckner’s customers were thanking her for giving them the nudge they needed.
“Many people said [they] just kind of forgot; [they] got into a routine,” she said. “Honestly, I thought people were fatigued, like who wants to pay for a nice dinner and then have to do dishes—nobody.”
Bruckner is beyond grateful for all the love she is receiving currently and the support that she received in March.
La Belle Aurore has been in business for 14 years, but being a farm-to-table restaurant — serving fresh, organic produce from about 10 area farms — comes with a high-price, said Bruckner. “I can’t cut my margins. I see other restaurants [giving] 50% off there,” she said. “I’m basically giving it away at this point with my ingredient cost.”
But there is also a benefit to sourcing food from local farms rather than factory farms, she said, especially during the pandemic. “We’re hearing about all these factory farms, and how they’re forcing them to stay open and people are getting sick,” said Bruckner, calling food from factory farms “inferior” to local farm produce.
“It’s so much better for you, and the meats are raised more humanly… mainly the people are treated more humanely,” Bruckner said. “It’s been a chronic issue for a long time and I think it really got highlighted by [COVID-19], but it’s something to really think about because it’s what you put in your body.”
La Belle Aurore is offering take-out and delivery only. To order visit labelleaurorect.com.