Restaurants can open, but owners say doing it safely is complicated and many are taking it slow

Fletcher’s, one of the restaurants at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, closed to dine-in service but continues to offer take-out. (Tegan Hanlon/Alaska Public Media)

When Anchorage restaurants are officially allowed to reopen for dine-in service on Monday, not all of them say they’ll be unlocking their doors. Instead, they are taking it slow and with caution.

The risks are high to employees and the public. Logistics are complicated. Rules and best practices are unclear. Safety gear is in short supply. Rushing it, they say, doesn’t seem wise.

Middleway Cafe, 49th State Brewing, and Glacier Brewhouse are among those who say they’re not planning on reopening for dine-in immediately

Bridget Tatalias, general manager of Simon & Seafort’s, is also leery of opening back up too soon. She’s awaiting guidance from the mayor before making a final decision.

“I really need to know what the rules of engagement are gonna be before we put a firm timetable together,” she says.

But there are also other logistical issues that she needs to resolve even with a green light from the city. If disposable menus are required, will they be able to get them printed? And what about PPE for staff? She says corporate partners are working to secure a shipment she still isn’t sure when she’ll be able to have enough to safely reopen.

“They are working on a supply source for us and whether we can have them and have the appropriate amount available to the team by Monday is yet to be determined. Right now, I don’t have them in the facility,” she said.

And with dozens of restaurants vying for the same materials, competition to get enough will be tough. While she’s hoping to open as soon as possible, Monday looks increasingly unlikely.

For Barb Whitney, a chef and part-owner of Red Chair Cafe, Monday can’t come soon enough.

“If we were able to open tomorrow, we would be able to open tomorrow, so we are all set to open. Our tables are all set to be spaced out correctly. We’re set up for 25% capacity. We’re stocked and prepped and we are ready to go,” she said.

Whitney says that she’s confident the sanitation and distancing procedures they’ve already come up with are enough to keep customers and staff safe, and is awaiting further guidance from the mayor. She understands the concerns about a hasty reopening. But she says that keeping the six-year-old business alive and her tight-knit staff of seven on the payroll is at the front of her mind.

“It’s really emotional for me. The motivation is that we need to get back to work in order to survive. I understand people’s concerns, and we are very sympathetic to that and aware and my staff and I. We need to get back to work,” she says.

Glenn Brady, the owner of Silver Gulch Brewery, already has experience with dine-in service during the coronavirus. His restaurant in Ted Stevens International Airport is one of the few that’s been allowed to stay open for dine-in service during the pandemic, and he says he’s developed increasingly stringent cleaning protocols as the virus spread.

“Backs of chairs that you might normally do every day, now we’re doing every customer,” he said. “In addition to transitioning to entirely one-way packaging. No more dirty dishes or glassware coming back, everything is in single-use.”

He says as a restaurant owner and board member of  the state’s restaurant lobbying group, he’s been pushing for strict guidelines for reopening. And he says he’s not entirely happy with the guidelines released by Gov. Mike Dunleavy earlier this week, which he says he thought were rushed out without enough consultation with industry.

“Yes, that’s actually a sore subject at the moment,” he said.

Brady says he’s was hoping that industry would have more than four days from the time the governor announced the reopening to prepare. He says that would have allowed restaurants to train staff in a way that would keep them safe, something he sees as a key to making sure statewide spread of the disease is kept at a minimum.

“It gets back to employee safety, customer safety, and safety of the community. We have to make sure we get this right when we reopen,” he says.

Restaurants around town know that one mistake could be costly, not only to their own reputations but to the community as a whole.

Alaska Public Media

Alaska Public Media is our partner station in Anchorage. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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