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For Piedmont residents Naomi and Sunny Grewal, it was an early Father’s Day celebration and the couple’s first time out without their 1- and 3-year-old children since March.
Kitchen Story, the Oakland eatery known for modern Korean food, was the last restaurant the Grewals dined at before the lockdown. It felt almost ceremonial to return on the day Alameda County allowed restaurants to resume outdoor dining.
“We love it here and have been supporting this restaurant with take-out from the start,” said Naomi Grewal, sitting on the three-table patio and covering her face when a server approached with their order. “It feels good to be out. We also feel safe because there’s no one else here.”
After three months, Alameda County, which currently has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Bay Area, took its first step June 19 to begin reopening businesses. For restaurants, that means maintaining six feet of distance between outdoor tables, offering disposable menus, touchless payment systems and other state-ordered health and safety guidelines.
There is no indication when indoor dining will resume.
But many restaurants with patios remained shuttered Friday, perhaps as a precaution following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new statewide order that face masks be worn in public, or out of respect for the Juneteeth celebrations and rallies taking place around the county.
The owners of Berkeley’s Gather, a downtown farm-to-table destination, are waiting until early July to reopen as they complete a 22-table patio on Oxford Street and tinker with a new and evolving business model. Co-owner Eric Funster hopes it will address not only the post-COVID-19 world but also the causes of social justice and inclusivity.
“We’re trying to figure out what taking the next step looks like and what the world is calling for at this time,” Funster said. “We want to reopen with a newness that can meet this moment.”
But for traditional independent restaurants hit hard by COVID-19, the potential of even one dine-in customer couldn’t come soon enough. The owners of Rockridge Cafe, a neighborhood institution since 1973, reopened their doors for takeout on June 5 after being closed for more than two months, getting hit with an unplanned $30,000 repair for a broken water pipe and walk-in refrigerator and a break-in where thousands of dollars worth of equipment was stolen.
They opened bright and early at 8 a.m. Friday, welcoming a few loyal patrons on the sidewalk patio for their usual omelets and coffee. By lunch, it was quiet again as server Margie Flanagan and manager Robert Gay, who have worked for the family-owned restaurant a combined 60 years, tidied up single-use pens at a small table in the entryway.
“As a small restaurant, you can not make money with some of these restrictions, especially when we move to indoor dining,” Gay said.
Larger restaurants, like Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, a small chain with locations in Newark and Dublin, welcomed steady traffic. Even with social distancing guidelines, the outdoor area at the Newark eatery has room for 94 people, and those seats were filling up by the afternoon.
“We have a dual patio that doesn’t really get used but it’s going to get used now,” said Brett Hutchison, Lazy Dog’s regional director of operations. “We’ve been preparing for this for quite some time.”
Among the changes the chain has implemented: A new online reservation system that allows guests to come in once their table is ready. A QR code at the bottom of the bill that makes for instant, contactless payment. And a roaming sanitizer — an employee who spends their whole shift doing extra cleaning.
“We set a timer for restrooms to be cleaned every 15 minutes,” Hutchison said. “Things are evolving every day but we’re putting the safety of our staff, guests and vendors first.”
Back in Oakland, as the sun hit the patio at Farmhouse Thai Kitchen in Jack London Square, servers in masks, gloves and plastic face shields delivered samosas and spring rolls to guests dispersed among the mostly four-top tables.
On this first day back in business, manager Miu Pitchayut has pivoted to an online menu, mobile payment and utensils pre-wrapped in napkins. If a guest needs to enter the restaurant, perhaps to use the restroom, he will ask if he can take their temperature with a touchless thermometer. Whatever it takes to keep everyone safe and healthy.
“Right now we’re just happy to do service again,” he said.
— to www.mercurynews.com