“It was 75 degrees, and we were looking at one of the last beautiful weekends of the season,” said Kahn, 38, who was resigned to taking a loss in revenue. “But I didn’t see that I had any choice.”
He called his barber, Andre Fersa, to cancel his regular Friday haircut and fill him in on the news.
Fersa, who owns a barbershop two doors from Würstbar, walked to the bar to have a cup of coffee with Khan, thinking the two men would vent as they usually do about the challenges of owning a small business. Fersa also had an offer:
“I can wait on your tables tomorrow,” Fersa said.
And that is how Fersa, who usually spends his days with a pair of clippers in hand, ended up hustling from the bar to the patio with trays full of beer and cider for Kahn’s customers on Saturday.
Fersa also brought along a friend, Joe Mercurio, to help with the bartending duties and to heat up several batches of giant Bavarian pretzels, since Würstbar’s usual menu of sausages and sandwiches was on hold.
“It was one of the most fun weekends I’ve had in a long time,” said Fersa, 29, who owns four Virile Barber & Shop locations in the Jersey City area.
Kahn and Fersa have known each other for about 4½ years, since Kahn fulfilled his dream of opening Würstbar on Jersey Avenue.
“I live next door to the bar, and Andre lives around the corner from the barbershop,” said Kahn, who described Jersey City as a midsize city with a small-town vibe. “Everybody knows each other in Jersey City.”
Würstbar had managed to get through the worst of the pandemic, thanks to patio dining and takeout, he said.
“I have a small staff, and we’re all like family,” Kahn said. “So when one person tested positive, it just seemed the safest thing to do was to get the proper people quarantined and everybody tested. Running the restaurant with non-exposed employees didn’t seem like an option.”
Then Fersa showed up with Mercurio.
“We were planning to hang out that day, and Andre said, ‘Hey, would you like to help out at Würstbar?’ ” said Mercurio, 29. “I’d been there many times, on the other side of the counter. So it was a lot of fun to pull beer, wine and cider from the opposite side during rush hour.”
Fersa put a post on Würstbar’s Instagram page after Kahn showed him how to take orders and Mercurio how to fill them.
“Virile barber shop is taking over Wurstbar today to help the quarantined staff,” he wrote. “The weather is too nice to let our neighbors at Wurstbar stay closed! I’ve taken over the bar and am selling pretzels, beer, wine and cider for outdoor seating only. Come on by and support this great staff.”
As Kahn observed safely from a distance, Fersa and Mercurio then took care of 40 to 50 tables, he said.
“We were super busy, but it wasn’t overwhelming,” Fersa said. “There was a lot of good energy and sunshine, and people were in a celebratory mood. We went through a lot of beer.”
Fersa said his prior experience waiting tables was in high school, when he worked briefly at a pizza restaurant. But he wasn’t cut out then for waiting tables, he said.
“I tried being a waiter for one day and went right back to delivery,” he said. “Keeping track of tables is a lot of work.”
At Würstbar, though, he found a good rhythm.
“The best part was talking to the customers — I really enjoyed that,” he said. “Maybe that’s because I make a living talking to people while I cut their hair.”
Fersa said he could relate to Kahn’s dilemma, because at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, he had to close all of his barbershops for more than three months.
“Fortunately, I was able to use my savings to get through, but it was still a difficult time,” he said. “I was behind on my bills for a while.”
Würstbar reopened on Thursday with the regular staff. (All have tested negative except for the initial employee who was positive and is now in isolation.) Kahn said he’ll never forget Fersa’s kindness.
“What a great neighbor,” he said. “Andre’s an asset to the neighborhood, and he’s welcome to wait tables any time.”
After a productive six hours at Würstbar, Fersa said he went home exhausted but happy that he was able to pitch in. He and Mercurio wouldn’t accept payment for their time, and they donated about $300 in tips to Khan’s staff.
“It was a great time, but I think I’ll stick with barbering,” he said. “And Aaron and I have both agreed that it’s probably not a good idea for him to come here and cut hair.”
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