Dennis Quaintance, CEO of O’Henry and Proximity hotels, discusses challenging time amid pandemic

Newsmakers

For the Piedmont’s hospitality industry, the coronavirus has been doubly cruel. Not only have many of its businesses shut down. But their owners aren’t sure if their employees or customers will come back.

Dennis Quaintance knows what it’s like. I’ve profiled him several times over the years as part of my Newsmakers segment. And he keeps making news.  

He’s the CEO of the company that runs two high-end hotels in Greensboro: the O’Henry and Proximity, their respective restaurants: the Green Valley Grill and PrintWorks Bistro as well as two Lucky 32 Restaurants in Greensboro and Cary. All those establishments closed suddenly right after the ACC Tournament ground to a halt in March. Since then — to use his words — it’s been a challenging and distressing time.

Here’s part of our conversation edited for brevity:

*Dennis Quaintance*

“The whole dream of what we do is disrupted because we’re in the business of causing delight for our guests and for our colleagues. And there’s no guests and there’s no colleagues. So we don’t get to do what we do. So this is the first time since I was 15-years-old that I hadn’t been doing that.”

“You know, we went into this for 670 staff members and over 600 of them have been furloughed. And you know, how do we get back? I mean, we’re employee-owned and I want to get the band back together as soon as we can. So that’s what keeps me up at night.”

*Neill*

“What went through your mind when you heard the ACC Basketball Tournament was canceled?

*Dennis Quaintance*

“Truth be known, we were worried about it in late February. We had contingency plans to close. We were startled when the ACC sent guests away from games to begin with and then shut down the tournament.”

*Neill*

“Have most of your workers been able to get unemployment?”

*Dennis Quaintance*

“Yes.”

*Neill*

“How confident are you that all of these folks are going to come back when this is over?”

*Dennis Quaintance*

“I think the majority of them will come back. But some won’t because it’s been long enough and they’re busy-bodies that have probably found other roles.”

*Neill*

“In about a week and a half, North Carolina, as you know is scheduled to go into Phase 2 if the numbers are good. Will your restaurants be open, and how well-equipped are you to handle reduced capacity, social distancing and perhaps some more stringent sanitary requirements?”

*Dennis Quaintance*

“We’re gung-ho about sort of nailing the sanitary requirements. We’re going to open the Green Valley Grill first and the PrintWorks and Lucky 32 later. But we’re in a good position because our tables already have pretty good spacing. So we can sort of checkerboard it plus directly adjacent to the restaurant, we have some event space that we may be able to add some more tables to. So I think we’re going to be able to handle the spacing well.”

*Neill*

“Say you’re allowed to reopen, how confident are you customers will come?

*Dennis Quaintance*

“Well, not very. (But) we’re almost equally queried that not many guests will show up or too many. But I think the likelihood that we’ll be back to sort of the number of guests that we’re serving on March 10th by September, October is relatively low.”

*Neill*

“Looking ahead years from now when we have a handle on COVID-19, what will eating out and staying at a hotel be like? What’s going to be the biggest difference?”

*Dennis Quaintance*

“I don’t know what’s going to be significantly different. I believe that in a couple or three years that we’re going to be so prepared. I think we’re going to come out of this with a similar sort of action plan, and I think that we’re going to be riding in full airplanes. We’re going to be in busy, bustling restaurants. I think we’re going to be back.

“Let’s be lovingly supportive of one another. Let’s figure out how to get back to sort of full employment in a way that is graceful. I’m a little concerned about us being sorta divided saying you know we need to stay locked down. And another side saying we need to open up. The answer is we need to do both in a lovingly supportive way.”

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