What will Phase Two mean for locally owned restaurants?

On Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced restaurants in North Carolina will be able to reopen for sit-down service but with new restrictions such as 50% capacity. Will locally owned restaurants be able to operate under the new COVID-19 requirements? How will they adapt to this situation? Under Phase Two, bars, breweries, movie theaters, bowling alleys, amusement parks and skating rinks will remain closed from now until June 26. But restaurants can reopen Friday for inside, sit-down service provided they meet certain requirements.

On Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper announced restaurants in North Carolina will be able to reopen for sit-down service but with new restrictions such as 50% capacity. Will locally owned restaurants be able to operate under the new COVID-19 requirements? How will they adapt to this situation?

Under Phase Two, bars, breweries, movie theaters, bowling alleys, amusement parks and skating rinks will remain closed from now until June 26. But restaurants can reopen Friday for inside, sit-down service provided they meet the following requirements:

» Seating must be limited to 50% capacity indoors and all patrons must sit 6 feet apart if they are not sharing a table. People sitting at lunch counters or bars must also be 6 feet apart.

» Conduct daily symptom screening of employees and immediately send symptomatic workers home to isolate.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services strongly recommends employees and customers wear a cloth or disposable face covering when they may be near (less than 6 feet from) other people in the restaurant, according to The Winston-Salem Journal.

So what will this mean for our locally owned eateries?

Since the middle of March, restaurants have managed to survive by offering takeout or delivery food only. Now that is about to change.

Bruce Brown of Bruce’s Fabulous Foods said his restaurant is doing well during the COVID-19 pandemic and he’s looking forward to reopening for sit-down customers.

“From the beginning of this period of time, we decided that we would follow the rules and regulations set forth by the governor and his advisors,” said Brown to The McDowell News. “We have been providing lunches as carry-out and take-out from the start without complaining or trying to find loopholes, like others have ignorantly attempted.”

Brown said his eatery has survived and thrived during this period because he and his employees learned to adapt to the situation.

“At the start, we expanded our services to provide delivery,” he said. “The next weekend, we started offering whole quiche for the weekends to our customers to supplement our sales. We added tomato pies and 6-inch cheesecakes to our boards...anything we could do to supplement and increase our sales.”

Bruce’s Fabulous Foods plans to re-open its dining room on Monday, Memorial Day at 50% capacity but this popular eatery will not cease the additional services and items that are currently offered, according to Brown.

“We will continue to offer delivery,” he said to The McDowell News. “We will continue to offer weekend items for our guests and we will continue to thrive in the environment to which we are currently adapting. We have all of our employees still working, from the start. No furloughs, no layoffs, no terminations. We are here to support the citizens of McDowell County and try to provide the same quality of food and service for which we have always been recognized. We vow to keep going, no matter what the conditions, being ever-changing, because there are advisors and people, much smarter than us, providing advice and taking the lead in this situation. As long as I’m in charge of and own this restaurant, we will follow the rules and regulations set before us. It doesn’t matter what the new rules are, we will always adapt and survive. That’s just our way!”

Refinery 13 plans to reopen customers today at 5 p.m. Although it first opened as a craft beer taproom, Refinery later started serving food. That means it can reopen for sit-down patrons.

“Yes, we are classified as a restaurant and will be reopening Friday at 5 for food sales,” said owner Sarah Barrier Jacobs. “Our capacity is normally 50 which means we will be limited to 25 patrons inside, and if the weather is nice we can seat more outside. We are going to be using disposable cups for all of phase two, to protect our staff, and obviously sanitizing all shared surfaces between guests. I’m thankful we will be able to open back up even with limited capacity but on the other hand I’m very sad for our friends at Mica Town and Spillway who have to remain closed.”

And Refinery 13 will once again serve North Carolina craft beer and wine to patrons, along with the food.

Mulligan Mack’s After 5 also serves food along with beer and mixed drinks.

“We at Mulligan’s have decided that our opening date will be June 1,” reads their Facebook page. “That will allow us time to clean, disinfect, get inventory in and make sure that all guidelines are in place for your safety. Thank you all for your continued support and we look forward to seeing you at Bob’s!”

Jon Hartman, owner of Holly’s Deli, said he feels sad for other business owners who are not able to open now.

“Personally I think it’s time to let folks start making their own decisions,” he said to The McDowell News. “As far as business goes we are OK but I look around at some of our other local entrepreneurs that were just starting to find their stride and now are worried if they’re ever going to recover. It’s disheartening to see that for them.”

At this time, Holly’s Deli is planning to move into the old Fatz Café building, which has more seating, and start offering an expanded menu. The Phase Two restrictions will work at the current location, which is much smaller, but not across the road at the new one.

“It will not work at the new location, said Hartman. “We’ll be fine where we are but could never support the overhead at the new location at 50% capacity.”

Jack Frost Dairy Bar is not necessarily a restaurant and it doesn’t have indoor seating. But it is an eatery that serves ice cream, milk shakes, hot fudge sundaes and banana splits. A date for the reopening of Jack Frost has not yet been set. Co-owner Jim Burgin said he plans to take an innovative approach so folks can still enjoy his ice cream.

“We want to see Phase Two come in and that the new cases of COVID-19 in McDowell County stay low before we open,” said Burgin to The McDowell News. “Because Jack Frost can have such large crowds of people waiting in the parking lot and at the picnic tables, we are doing something radical, at least to start off. We are going to turn the business into a drive-thru with people staying in their vehicles.”

At first, Jack Frost Dairy Bar will only offer pints, quarts, and half-gallons of made ice cream. People will drive in the lower entrance, go up through the closest gate into the upper parking lot, drive around and down through the second gate and then stop in the front of the building. Employees will go out and take orders and money/credit cards and bring the ice cream back and the person will exit out the other entrance, according to Burgin.

“The emphasis is on getting people in and out as quickly as possible, eliminating the crowds,” he said. “Hopefully later on we can offer cones, sundaes, and milk shakes but here at the beginning we want do the business the fastest way and that is by selling bulk ice cream that is already made up. That is the latest from us on Jack Frost. Not ideal but hopefully safe.”

Larger restaurants should have no problem accommodating customers at 50% capacity and maintaining social distancing. For example, both the Hook & Anchor and Countryside BBQ announced on their Facebook pages they will reopen their dining rooms on Saturday,

But smaller eateries will find this a challenge and still be able to operate.

“We would love to see the city adopt some type of program that closes Main Street on the weekend evenings to expand outdoor seating like other towns are doing,” said Jacobs to The McDowell News.

On Tuesday, the Marion City Council approved a request by Planning Director Heather Cotton to allow the Planning and Development Department to temporarily relax minimum on-site parking requirements for local businesses, and to allow administrative-level approval for the issue of sidewalk café permits. This policy was approved in anticipation of the new executive order to allow restaurants and other establishments to resume dine-in services at reduced occupancy, according to a news release from the city of Marion.

The city wants to support businesses in their recovery by providing temporary flexibility for outdoor-dining and merchandise display while adhering to the state’s executive order, said Cotton.

“We have looked at several options, and felt that this was something that could be implemented quickly and at little to no additional cost to businesses,” she said.

Under the policy, businesses would be allowed to use 30% of their on-site parking to establish temporary outdoor seating and merchandise display. Downtown businesses without on-site parking would be able to expand outdoor seating and merchandise display under an active sidewalk café permit.

The Marion City Council also approved modifying the sidewalk café approval process. Previously, a sidewalk café application required City Council approval.

Council has granted city staff the authority to permit new sidewalk café applications without its approval. This authority will streamline the approval process allowing for same-day permitting for applicant’s having adequate liability insurance and a signed liability waiver.

A zoning permit will not be required for any lawfully established business wanting to temporarily expand outdoor seating and merchandise display unless the space is on public property and does not have an active sidewalk café permit, according to the news release.

While a zoning permit and inspection is not required, businesses must adhere to the following requirements:

» The total number of tables and chairs inside and outside may not exceed approved posted occupancy.

» All new outdoor seating conducted on public property will require a sidewalk café permit. Owners should contact the Marion Planning and Development Department at 828-652-3551 for questions and specific requirements.

» Constructing, installing, and/or erecting any material used to shelter the public, including but not limited to a canopy, tent, or awning may require a building permit and/or fire inspection. Owners should contact the Marion Planning and Development Department at 828-652-3551 for questions and specific requirements.

» ADA accessible parking spaces may not be utilized for outdoor seating or merchandising.

» All outdoor seating and merchandising shall be setback a minimum of 25 feet from the edge of any road having a speed limit greater than 25 miles per hour.

» A clearly visible barrier shall be installed around the perimeter of an outdoor seating area to separate seating from on-site parking.

» All aisles, walkways, and sidewalks shall maintain a 6-foot width for adequate clearance for social distancing and minimum ADA accessibility requirements.

» Businesses serving or selling alcohol shall comply with all applicable state and federal laws, which may be more restrictive.

» Businesses shall abide by all local, state, and federal executive orders, as well as North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control guidelines for protecting public health.

The Marion Business Association has created an emergency resources page that can be found at https://hometownmarion.com/emergency-resources/. The site features federal, state and local assistance programs to help businesses recover. A complete copy of the city’s policy can be found there or on the city of Marion’s Website at www.marionnc.org.

For questions or additional information, contact Development Review Administrator Lauren Auton at 828-652-3551 or at lauton@marionnc.org.

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