By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Anthony's Fish Grotto in La Mesa has reversed plans to close down, rehiring some employees after an outpouring of public support. Owner Craig Ghio has expanded the take-out menu and hopes to survive--with social distancing--once the lakefront restaurant with seafood market is allowed to reopen for dine-in customers.
May 13, 2020 (San Diego) – Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday released guidelines for restaurants in areas with low rates of COVID-19 to reopen their dining rooms, with changes to protect diners and staff.
But bars, brew pubs, wineries and craft distilleries must remain closed, unless they offer sit-down meals with any alcohol served.
Once the state allows a region’s restaurants to reopen, the County must also grant approval. Each restaurant must submit a COVID-19 prevention plan that includes requirements for cleaning and disinfecting, keeping six feet between tables, using disposable menus and partitionsa at cash registers and host stands. Windows and doors to outside should be kept open and patio seating can be expanded.
Customers must wear masks when not eating or drinking. Staff should wear masks when within six feet of customers, though masks are recommended for all workers and face shields must be provided for dishwashers. Staff must wear gloves to handle dishes and napkins; table linens must be changed after every diner.
The first places authorized for dine-in restaurants to reopen are seven Northern California counties: Butte, El Dorado, Shasta, Lassen, Amador, Nevada and Placer.
The Governor stopped short of limiting occupancy, which some states have done, instead only requiring six feet between tables. But he acknowledged that this will make it hard for some restaurants to make a profit, noting many are “already running on low margins to begin with,” adding, “I’m not naïve about this and I’m deeply concerned.”
Joe Condi, president and chief executive officer of the California Restaurant Association, posted a statement on Facebook in reaction to the Governor’s actions. It reads: “After nearly two months of closure, every restaurant in California is reaching a critical phase in their ability to survive. Each day that passes without opening increase the risk of permanent closure.”
He praised the Governor’s announcement for providing clarity on what reopening will look like, adding, “We are grateful to the Governor for recognizing how important local agencies are to the reopening of restaurants in thousands of neighborhoods all over California. Other states have established arbitrary rules around restaurant capacity, but what’s important are safety measures and physical distancing. Our own recommendations. Which were the result of a collaboration with health officials, also recognize that local health agencies are best positioned to make these determinations in their own regions.”
Condi concludes, “While the restaurant experience may look different with physical distancing in place, her is what is unchanged: hospitality. Restaurants are getting ready to open their doors and enthusiastically welcome their guests.”
But some restaurants won’t be reopening. Souplantation, the San Diego-based buffet chain, has announced plans to permanently close all of its locations nationwide. Any restaurants offering buffets will face major challenges to alter their business model in order to reopen.
Other restaurants are gearing up in anticipation of reopening for dine-in. At Sheldon’s Station in La Mesa, which normally serves breakfast and lunch, a dinner menu has just been added – for takeout initially, but staff has been marking off spaces for socially distanced tables on an outdoor patio. The owner says he has not received any of the federal funds to help small businesses and despite a brisk morning business, lack of dine-in options and a closed bar has cost him more than half of his usual revenues.
An outpouring of customer support this past week saved another long-time local restaurant, Anthony’s Fish Grotto in La Mesa, from closing its doors. After announcing plans to shut down May 9 and holding a close-out sale on wine bottles, owner Craig Ghio reversed plans after phones began ringing and they sold out of “everything” in just days. Ghio calls the response “humbling and overwhelming.” He’s since rehired workers for at least eight weeks, hoping to save this heritage restaurant.
Reopening for takeout May 13, Anthony’s has added more items to its take-out menu ranging from shrimp cocktails to a shore combo, with options to pickup in the parking lot of in a repurposed bar. To his customers, Ghio says, “Thank you for showing us again that we’re not just another seafood restaurant, but a piece of living San Diego history.”
Not all restaurants are eager to reopen. At Cal Comfort, a restaurant and sports bar in Spring Valley known for its barbecue foods, the owner told KPBS he has no plans to reopen yet and wants to be sure it’s safe. The restaurant also provides food for a senior living center next door.
And while many restaurants are eagerly awaiting the day when they can reopen their doors for dine-in patrons, it remains to be seen whether the public with flock back to restaurants, or remain wary of the coronavirus and opt to stay home, or continue taking in meals from their favorite local eateries.