New Bedford restaurants kept cooking through COVID-19

City and customer support helped add new dining spots during pandemic.

NEW BEDFORD — Steve Silverstein has spent his life in the restaurant industry.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses in March of 2020, he was forced to contemplate what he’d have left to show for it.

“Is this the end of my career?” worried the owner of New Bedford’s Black Whale, Whale’s Tail, Cultivator Shoals and the newly opened Cisco, as well as the Joe’s Original kitchen and bar in Dartmouth. “It was absolute fear, initially. No one knew what was happening. We were prepared for the absolute worst.”

That month, the New York Times issued a dire report from restaurant analysts and operators that predicted 75 percent of independent restaurants in the United States would be left shuttered by the pandemic.

That bleak forecast didn’t include the number of in-the-works restaurants that would never open their doors. Dough Company, known as DoCo, was originally slated to open in the Kilburn Mill in January 2020, but delays in the buildout left the restaurant in limbo when the pandemic hit. Ultimately, DoCo struggled to hold on long enough to open in June 2020.

“Not opening when we did could have put us under,” co-owner Jillian Cotter said. “We were that close. We were hovering around not being able to ever open the business.”

Across New Bedford, in restaurants young and old, the dread was tangible.