Coronavirus in Vermont: A mother works to keep Stowe restaurant open for son with autism

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The spread of COVID-19 has hit Vermont restaurants hard, but one mother’s fight to save her eatery isn’t just about business.  

Athena Scheidet’s Green Goddess Cafe is dealing with the fallout of COVID-19, a disease related to the coronavirus that initially impacted people in China toward the end of last year and prompted Vermont to prohibit table service at restaurants. 

If her eatery can’t stay afloat, it could hurt Owen, Scheidet’s six-year-old son, who was diagnosed with autism at 15 months and requires a watchful eye.

Telling Owen it’s bath time could lead him to kick a nearby window with all his strength. Scheidet estimated it cost nearly $1,000 to replace a wood stove door after her son got his hands on it. She admitted he’d probably jump out of a moving car. 

She asked a former employee to look after Owen, whose school, along with all others in the state, closed due to concerns over the coronavirus. His needs can be costly, and Scheidet’s working to ensure her child progresses while simultaneously saving her place of work.

Watching the sales plummet 

Gov. Phil Scott’s suspension of on-site service for restaurants and bars hit March 17. Since then, Scheidet has had to find ways to navigate her business and think ahead for her son. 

Symptoms of the disease can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. 

Vermont clamped down on activity to mitigate the disease’s impact, and restaurants were among the first to face restrictions, including the eatery Scheidet owns with her partner. Since then, the eatery has revamped its menu offerings to include family-style takeout platters like burrito bowls and mac-and-cheese. 

Green Goddess Cafe is a busy restaurant, she said, capable of seeing up to 600 customers in a day when tourist activity heightens. She described her space on Stowe’s South Main Street as eclectic, adorned with plants, string lights, local art and red paint. 

Music still plays in the restaurant and spirits are in decent shape, even if the reality is grim. Scheidet checks the numbers consistently, “about 100 times a day,” and has seen sales go down 90%.

“I will take any dollar I can, if it means that I can pay for things that he needs,” she said of Owen. 

‘Not spending a dime’ 

The lights stay off in the Scheidet family’s Mud City Loop home. They’re barely putting money toward gas.

“We’re not spending a dime on anything,” she said.

The family wants to use money for Owen, hoping to create an inviting space in the yard for him (like setting up a slide in the tree or a bridge) so they can remain at home. Spending is tight because Scheidet can’t predict what will happen with Green Goddess and is unsure if Owen will ever be capable of living independently. 

The future of his care remains unclear.

His speech and language services, occupational therapy and special education ceased when Morrisville Elementary School closed. 

Private alternatives aren’t feasible for Scheidet, estimating she’d pay thousands per week for applied behavioral analysis alone, which Owen previously received through Lamoille County Mental Health four times each week. 

She relied on his services and the people who provided them for years. 

“They are a huge part of what your child is now,” she said. 

Some funds are coming her way: She had to axe a trip to Italy and Switzerland, one she’s been planning for years with her best friend. A few weeks abroad would have been a one-time adventure for the mother. 

Even before the virus, her focus on Owen and Green Goddess meant she didn’t have many hobbies, like going to the gym or getting massages.

But now her patience is wearing thin. 

Working at home with Owen 

Scheidet’s trying to keep up with the ever-changing landscape that could impact her business, like unemployment and small business loans. 

At the same time, Owen might ask her to oblige to phrases like “Mommy, jump, please.” 

“And then he takes your phone and throws it across the room,” she said. 

So Scheidet hid in her bedroom to take the call with the Free Press. One of the 11 employees laid off from Green Goddess is helping Owen navigate his days while Scheidet keeps up with the restaurant. The mother’s instructions are simple.

“Just keep him safe,” she said. 

This can mean walking him up and down the road or holding his hands while he jumps on the trampoline.

Owen needs physical activity, something that isn’t feasible through play-dates and parties. Instead, Scheidet found alternative options for him, like the trampoline park and indoor playground. 

His options are limited now. But he still has the bridges in Morrisville, Johnson and Stowe.

He can spend hours going back and forth on them. At this point, Scheidet’s convinced he’s memorized the space, enabling him to run them with his eyes closed. 

“I’ll do anything for this child,” she said. “He is the most important thing. And he’s going to have a great life.”  

Each day begets a new discovery for the restaurant, which is exhausting for Scheidet. But even if she has to close down the restaurant, she’ll adapt.

Her son depends on it. 

Contact Maleeha Syed at mzsyed@freepressmedia.com or 802-495-6595. Follow her on Twitter @MaleehaSyed89

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