To open or not to open: many restaurants not ready to resume dine-in service

May 11, 2020
By Angela Orlando
By Angela Orlando

Some say it's too soon, some say it's not economically feasible, but don't expect many of your favorite spots to open right away.

While Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced the allowance of restaurants to reopen for dine-in service, the decree does not translate to “business as usual.” Seventeen new measures have been provided for adoption, 15 of which the Board of Supervisors will be asked to make required until the pandemic is officially declared as ended.

According to an official PCHD May 11 article, the new measures are “vetted by the Restaurants and Bars Task Force of the County’s Back To Business initiative, give restaurants important operational guidance after Gov. Doug Ducey allowed restaurants to resume on-premises dining May 11.” Additionally, according to the article, the measures are “strongly recommended.”

Some restaurants enthusiastically opened Monday, or will as soon as possible thereafter. Others are holding off on reopening until they feel that the virus is more contained. A growing number of Tucson small businesses including restaurants have joined a statewide declaration called “Too Soon Arizona,” uniting in “a decision to not reopen our dining rooms … to the public at this time.”

(Credit: The Canyon's Crown Restaurant and Pub)
(Credit: The Canyon’s Crown Restaurant and Pub)

Catalina Craft Pizza owner Jeff Bridge falls somewhere in the middle. Bridge said he’ll reopen “sometime in May” when the customers and staff feel safe, but he isn’t in a rush. He said that’s because since Earth Day – April 22 – he has implemented a “very popular sidewalk series of live music and entertainment,” which has proven successful. Orders are delivered to customers’ vehicles in the parking lot. There, they tailgate (maintaining social distance practices), eat their pizza or other selection and listen to what Bridge deemed some of Tucson’s best musicians. Curbside carry-out and delivery are also available.

According to General Manager Erin Stockellburg, Canyon’s Crown Restaurant and Pub opened Monday at 11 a.m. The restaurant has reduced its seating and followed other safety protocols, Stockellburg said.

“Our patio will also be available with limited seating. We have also converted our private backroom to our take-out center with dedicated parking for take-out and curbside (service) as well as a separate entrance and exit so that take-out guests do not need to enter the main restaurant,” Stockellburg noted.

Prior to its closure, Churrasco de Brasil Brazilian Steakhouse had 65 employees, and on Tuesday, May 12, when they reopen for dinners only, they’ll have rehired 45. Tables will be set 6-8 feet apart, rendering the restaurant operational at 60% capacity. Churrascos are known for tableside meat service, wherein waiters come to the diner and slice meat from a skewer on to their plate. This will continue, and the waiters will wear masks but not gloves (“they’ll melt on the hot skewer,” explained partner-owner Adão Giovanaz). Other servers will wear masks and gloves.

Churrascos are also known for their buffet-style salad bars, and Churrasco de Brasil will modify theirs. Salad bar attendants will be 5-6 feet apart, and diners will point to what they want (rather than serving themselves) and the attendants will plate it. Particularly popular salads will be delivered to the table, Giovanaz said.

“We’re following successful models taking place in Oregon, Texas, and Georgia,” he noted.

Facade at Churrasco de Brasil
Facade at Churrasco de Brasil (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Ghini’s French Caffe will also open Tuesday, May 12, for patio dining from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Chef/owner Coralie (“Chef Ghini”) Satta said she’ll also continue to offer curbside pickup and delivery through the locally-owned Foodie Magoo’s service.

“Servers in masks for sure,” Satta said. “We all have gloves but I will see how practical it is to serve customers all day long. I would rather wash my hands 10,000 times a day like we already do. The gloves seem dirtier to me.”

Tables are set to proper distances and Satta and crew have been deep cleaning and painting the restaurant since the pandemic shuttered restaurants.

Many other restaurants will be open for dine-in service as well. All Trident Grill locations will observe regular hours starting Monday, May 11 and Bison Witches opened for sit-down meals as well.

According to Todd Hanley, proprietor of Hotel Congress and Maynards Market and Kitchen both eateries plan to take the extra time to “hire back our staff and begin training on the safest policies, procedures, and protocols established by the local, state and federal health organizations.” Todd and the management team also have the logistics of transitioning the Hotel Congress online market over to Maynards Market and Kitchen.

“We also want to thoughtfully consider and base our decision on coronavirus trends,” he added.

Hanley said he believes that Monday was “too early to open based on the current trends,” and hopes that “over the next few weeks as we all continue to stay at home and social distance, those efforts will allow us to get back to serving all our loyal and amazing guests once again.”

Eric Corbin loading pizza at Trident Pizza Pub (Credit: Jackie Tran)
Eric Corbin loading pizza at Trident Pizza Pub (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Feast owner and chef Doug Levy will not be opening for dine-in service yet, either.

“Even if we felt it was a good idea to open (Monday), we can really only reopen once. Another closure will be beyond what the business can afford to do,” he said.

During the closure, Feast changed into a take-out and delivery restaurant and Levy intends to continue those services until Levy “feel(s) we’re not making a dramatic jump in threatening the health and well-being of our staff, our guests and our purveyors.”

“Seating only a third of a restaurant will never pay its bills nor keep its staff employed,” he said. Levy noted that “as a community, (we) have met none of the county health department guidelines for reopening, and the CDC recommends 14 days of declining cases. Pima County has added cases daily for the past 14 days … We have no interest in turning this restaurant into a place for people to come and get sick.”

On the Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails website, chef Janos Wilder wrote a letter to his guests indicating that the restaurant will not be open for dine-in service until further notice. Wilder writes that “there is no significant evidence that COVID-19 infection rates have sufficiently decreased in Arizona to support opening now.” The letter continues: “When you return, you will notice a number of protocols put in place to protect all of us from spreading the virus.”

Wilder is a signatory on the Too Soon Arizona petition, which has the hashtag #toosoon, along with many other local restaurateurs. These include Brian Haskins and Jasper Ludwig of 5 Points Market and Restaurant (when asked if they’d open as soon as possible, Ludwig said, “absolutely not”); Sally Kane, owner of the Coronet and La Fonda Hermanita; Eric Erman, co-owner of Ermanos Craft Beer and Wine Bar; the Schnieder Family of La Cocina, TallBoys, and Bentley’s House of Coffee and Tea; and Brandon Katz of Obon Sushi Bar Ramen.

Social media is the best place to stay abreast of who’s opening or not. A recent Facebook post from Vivace announced dine-in services to resume immediately, while Kingfisher will not.

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