Gov. Doug Ducey this week gave Arizona’s restaurants and coffee shops clearance to resume sit-down service beginning Monday, May 11, provided they implement measures to promote physical distancing and limit the number of diners.
Restaurant operators in Santa Cruz County are reacting to the new guidelines in a range of ways. While some are eager to get back to business as soon as possible, others are reluctantly going along or adopting a wait-and-see approach.
Copper Brothel Brewery
Wasting no time, the Copper Brothel Brewery in Sonoita plans to be open for sit-down service starting at 11 a.m. on Monday, owner Sammie Jesser said.
“We have rearranged our dining room to make sure everybody’s sitting far apart, taking some tables out so we make sure everybody’s doing the proper social distancing,” she said, adding that staff will wear face masks and make an extra effort to wipe down surfaces.
Jesser said she’s expecting patrons – both local residents and the tourists who continue to enjoy the area’s outdoor recreation opportunities on the weekends – will be ready to return to the dining room, though the restaurant will continue to offer curbside pickup as well.
“Most of our feedback from the community is that they’re ready to come and enjoy a time out of their houses for a little while,” she said, adding: “They’re all ready to start the new normal.”
And while the Copper Brothel Brewery is ready to resume sit-down service at the first opportunity, Jesser said, it wasn’t a decision made in haste.
“We want to keep the community safe, we want to keep our employees safe. But at the same time, our employees need the work and we need to go ahead and move forward with it,” she said. “So we’re going to do that, taking best care and the best practices we can to keep everybody safe.”
Tubac Deli and Coffee Co.
“No, I won’t be starting on the 11th,” said Paul Trautman, owner of the Tubac Deli and Coffee Co., when asked about a possible resumption of sit-down service.
In fact, the business has been closed entirely for the past six weeks or so, and Trautman and his staff are planning to re-open on Friday, May 8 for curbside pickup and take-out – services Arizona eateries have been allowed to offer throughout the coronavirus crisis.
As the cafe eases back into business with limited service, Trautman said, he’ll evaluate the situation to determine when it’s right to open the dining area again.
“I’ll do a wait-and-see approach,” he said. “At the earliest it would be the weekend (of May 16-17), and then it would be limited seating, everything spaced apart and all that stuff.”
“Since I’ve been closed for so long,” he added, “I want to get a feel of what the public wants, what they’re looking for, how many people we’re seeing.”
Employees at the Tubac Deli and Coffee Co. don’t wait on tables, but still have close contact with customers at the counter. In addition to himself, Trautman has three employees ready for the re-start, and “they seem fine with everything we’re doing so far,” he said.
One particular concern for Trautman as he considers a return to full service is the demographics of his community, which has a relatively high percentage of people at higher risk for COVID-19.
“I think the average age of the population, the last I heard, was like 74 here in Tubac,” he said, adding that that’s why curbside pick-up service, in which customers don’t have to get out of their cars, is a good option.
Sheryl Ramirez of Antojitos Mexicanos said she doesn’t foresee her family-run restaurant in Nogales resuming sit-down service any time soon.
“We’re not ready yet,” she said as she paused briefly from preparing to-go orders at lunchtime on Thursday.
For Ramirez, concerns about health and safety outweigh the potential economic benefits of re-opening the restaurant’s dining area.
“I don’t think things are getting better – I think they’re getting worse,” she said of the public health situation.
“I have a family to take care of,” she said, noting that if she were to resume sit-down service, she’d have customers at her tables who wouldn’t be wearing masks or gloves. “I want to think of my family first.”
Moqah Coffee & Beyond
“I think this is a good place to start and just try it out,” Francisco Ruiz, owner of Moqah Coffee & Beyond in Rio Rico, said of the loosened restrictions.
Ruiz said that low-stress, low-turnover establishments like his – where seating is limited to begin with, and where customers sit and spend an hour our two chatting at a table – will be good test cases to see if people are willing to resume sit-down dining.
He said he knows the key will be to show patrons that their health is being protected.
“I’ve been asking my customers about what they think about it, and what they say is that they’ll do it if it’s safe — only if it’s safe,” he said.
So with the cafe poised to resume sit-down service next week, they’ve been working on a reconfigured physical layout as well as a safety-appropriate procedure for taking orders and providing table service. And Ruiz said he wants to be sure to convey those procedures to the customers so they don’t mistake caution for inattention.
As for the layout, he said, Moqah’s floor plan already offered a fair amount of space between tables. Even so, they’re removing two of the seven tables and putting them outside in the patio.
“We are going to start taking people for dining inside the restaurant starting next week,” Ruiz said on Thursday. “We’re just planning on how we’re going to do it in order to keep ourselves safe and also the community.”
Cocina La Ley
German Larios, owner of Cocina La Ley in Nogales, said the Mexican seafood restaurant would be open for sit-down service next week, but made it clear that he was “not happy” about it.
“I need to be open,” he said, later adding: “The situation is obligating you.”
For Larios, it’s a question of competition.
“I had already figured out the situation where takeouts were the solution and I was getting to the point where I was comfortable with that situation, with just takeout,” he said. “But if I stick to takeout when others open – because they told them to open – I’m going to be in trouble.”
When the doors do open again at Cocina La Ley, Larios said, he’s planning to follow health guidelines for the safety of the customers that he sees day in and day out at the restaurant.
“They’re not occasional clients, they’re good clients,” he said, “I have to take care of them.”
After hearing second-hand about the governor’s order that restaurants would be allowed to reopen their dining areas next week, Gustavo Valencia, manager at La Cabaña in Nogales, said he expected to have tables available on Monday.
But first, he said, he wanted to hear some local guidance on the matter.
“We received (a notice) when we had to close, but we haven’t received any paper from the city that we can open, so that’s why I’m saying we would have to first ask the city… I think that would be the right thing to do.”
Valencia said he’d heard that restaurants would only be allowed to accept diners up to a quarter of their capacity. At La Cabaña, that would mean that the roughly 50-person dining room would be capped at around 12 people, he said.
The executive order issued by Ducey on May 4 doesn’t specify what portion of its space a restaurant can use, but indicates that eateries must “implement protocols and best practices… including enacting physical distancing policies, limiting the number of diners and following protocols as directed by (the CDC, OSHA, and ADHS).”
A document circulated by the Governor’s Office providing guidance for restaurants and diners included recommendations to stay six feet away from others while dining, limit parties to 10 people, and to “operate with reduced occupancy and capacity based on the size of the business location.”
Valencia said that giving diners their space wouldn’t be a problem at the restaurant: “The tables here aren’t too close.”
And he felt confident that locals are ready to get back to sit-down service.
“I think so, because they’ve already come to ask, they ask if they can come in yet,” he said. “It seems like people want to already.”