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Restaurants seat diners indoors during Phase Two: ‘Like a game of Tetris’

Posted at 7:53 PM, Jun 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-06 11:15:30-04

SHORT PUMP, Va. -- Friday marked the first time in months since Virginians were served a meal indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the Commonwealth entered Phase Two of Governor Ralph Northam’s plan to slowly reopen the state. The City of Richmond and Northern Virginia remained under Phase One due to a rise in coronavirus cases.

Restaurants are now able to seat customers inside at 50 percent of their capacity while maintaining social distancing guidelines. Bar seating is still prohibited.

Co-owners Michelle Williams and Jared Golden welcomed customers inside their Short Pump restaurant, The Daily Kitchen & Bar, on Friday.

“It’s like a game of Tetris,” Williams described. “Our occupancy here is around 260 people but I don’t think we could seat 130 people indoors while maintaining the six-foot [distancing guidelines].”

The restaurant was closed until two weeks ago when Williams and Golden began offering takeout and patio seating under Phase One.

“We don’t want anybody to come to work that doesn’t feel safe and doesn’t want to come to work,” Williams said.

Ron and Terry Griffith celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary inside The Daily on Friday.

“I didn’t want to do my anniversary at a fast food restaurant. I’m tired of fast food," Ron joked.

Terry said she was tired of eating out of cardboard takeout boxes.

“It felt great,” she described eating indoors. “Like a new beginning. The numbers are starting to go down and we can celebrate and do things like we used to.”

Williams said the most difficult aspect of reopening her restaurant was unraveling the guidelines set forth by local and state leaders.

“The lack of clear information coming to us about what each phase is going into what each phase is going to look like so we know how to prepare and what to prepare for. It’s not like we can switch on light on,” she explained.

Matt Tlusty owns Saltbox Oyster Company in the Willow Lawn Shopping Center.

“We are right on that Henrico line so we got to open our patio. It’s been great, it’s been fantastic,” Tlusty said of the Phase One reopening plan.

As far as welcoming customers back inside his Henrico seafood restaurant this weekend, Tlusty will play it by ear.

“What my problem is right now, I think we have the customers, but we don’t have the employees. That’s the biggest concern,” he explained. "My cooks and waitstaff are making way more money sitting at home collecting unemployment."

Tlusty hoped to fill his patio to 50% on Friday, but aimed to seat diners indoors the following weekend.

James Baldwin also planned to hire more waitstaff ahead of Phase Two for his Chesterfield restaurant, Charred.

Baldwin and Walied Sanien opened their Hull Street Road eatery on March 18 at a time when other restaurants were closing their doors due to the pandemic.

“We opened for the togo and delivery with the four managers and the two owners and that was it,” Baldwin explained. “It was really staff driven and they had gotten to the point where they didn't want to give up on it.”

They opened their patio to customers, but aren’t yet ready to serve customers inside.

“With a brand new restaurant with a limited menu and then increasing the menu size — and an all brand new staff. It's a lot more training,” Baldwin stated.

Baldwin hoped to seat customers indoors by Tuesday.

“Let us get our feet under us before we jump into the full wait list, hopefully, full reservation and people waiting outside for a table,” he said.

Under Phase Two, gyms and fitness centers can have indoor classes and workouts at 30% capacity.

While Richmond remained under Phase One, MMA Institute on Jahnke Road was preparing ahead for that day.

“My students are chomping at the bits to be able to get hands-on and get that real physical contact,” said Joanna Catabui, who teaches Muay Thai classes.

They plan to shorten class sizes to allow time to sanitize the mats and equipment between sessions. Temperatures will be taken at the door and those who feel sick will be encouraged to stay home.

They’ll continue offering Zoom classes for those who aren’t comfortable to meet in person.

“We are trying to be responsible and do what’s right, but also begin to live again,” Catabui said.

During a Friday press conference, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said the city won’t enter Phase Two “for at least another week” citing COVID-19 concerns.