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‘Ten days after our bar opened, Covid shut us down’

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More things happened to and for Rob Mohally in March of this year than normally happen in a half a lifetime to anyone.

The Cork man (34), together with his business partner. opened his first bar, Sundays Well, in Manhattan on March 5, in good time for St Patrick’s Day.

Ten days later the bar, along with every other bar and restaurant in the city that never sleeps, was ordered to shut down.

Barely a few days later Mr Mohally and his wife both displayed symptoms of Covid-19 and went for a test. The result: positive.

Seven months on, it seems like a lifetime ago; but back in late March and April, New York was the global epicentre of Covid-19. The city of more than eight million was recording more than 30,000 cases a day.

“Sundays Well was five years in the making,” Rob said speaking of the process of saving every penny, scouring the city for the right location, and eventually finding the right spot in Kips Bay over by the East River in Manhattan.

“It just so happened that we opened 10 days before a pandemic shut us down.”

Mr Mohally, originally from Youghal, Co Cork, left Dublin for New York a decade ago. He joined his brother David, who co-owns a number of bars in the city, before striking out with his business partner Greg Lipari to open their own bar.

Sundays Well takes its name from the area in Cork where Mr Mohally’s mother hails from.

“Opening on March 5, the first date you circle is Patrick’s Day. This could be our first big day. And then as we got closer, it just became more realistic that things were going to be shut down. But we also didn’t know whether it was going to be before or after St Patrick’s Day.”

Amid the guessing game, they were ordering in extra Guinness and decorating the bar to prepare for what potentially could have been a big day for the new kid on the block.

In the end, it all came to naught as officials ordered a city-wide shut down on March 15.

“When you open a bar it does go through your mind that this place is going to be open every day of the year except for Christmas Day for however long we’re there. Ten days in, you’re not exactly expecting to be locking the doors at 6pm.”

Not long after shutting up shop and then displaying symptoms of Covid-19, the two business partners both tested positive. Quarantine followed.

Even so, Mr Mohally redirected the payroll accounts to his apartment in order to post out cheques to staff.

“I had to walk to the post box at four o’clock in the morning, walking across the street from guys walking their dogs. It was all very surreal.”

Luckily for him, the virus didn’t unduly affect his health and when it came to the decision about whether to open back up or not he says there was only one option.

“We didn’t even have a choice but to give it a go. We just put every penny into this. We knew we had no choice,” he said.

There was also a little bit of luck for Sundays Well in a year where it was in short supply: they have a “sizeable back yard for New York”. This meant they could open back up and serve punters outside.

“It’s what gave us a glimmer of hope that we might make it through this.”

Irish Independent

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