The Transylvania Times -

Restaurants, Bars Preparing For Phase Two-Brevard NC


Last updated 5/20/2020 at 5:29pm

Gabriel Garcia, at Quixote in downtown Brevard, sets the table for the anticipated dine-in customers in Phase Two of the reopening. (Times photo by Sean Trapp)

Many Transylvania restaurants and bars say they plan to open for dine-in service once Gov. Roy Cooper says the state can move forward with Phase Two of COVID-19 reopening, but they admit there is much ambiguity when it comes to what the rules may be.

On Monday, the Brevard/Transylvania Chamber of Commerce, Transylvania County Tourism and the Heart of Brevard hosted a virtual "Huddle Up" meeting for bar and restaurant owners to discuss the prospects of reopening for dine-in customers.

Cooper is expected to start Phase Two of North Carolina's COVID-19 restriction lifting on Friday, according to new guidance from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which would allow the restaurants to have dine-in guests at no more than 50 percent of maximum occupancy as stated in fire capacity and no more than 12 people per 1,000 feet, if there is not a fire code number available.

The guidelines also have requirements for spacing tables to allow for 6 feet of separation between parties, posting signage to remind people about social distancing and marking 6 feet of spacing in lines at high traffic areas such as cash registers or waiting areas.

During the virtual meeting, businesses seemed to be ready for the restrictions to be lifted but are somewhat exasperated navigating new rules on top of completely reorganizing their business operations, all while trying to keep their employees and customers safe.

Wine Down on Main owner Patti Butler said it's going to be "doable but challenging."

"I find that now that we're open for takeout, we're open for two different groups of people: those who are terrified and those who don't care," she said. "I'm meeting with my staff today, where we're going to come up with some practices. It is a challenge. But I feel like with a lot of creative thought we can figure it out."

Chamber Executive Director Clark Lovelace led the meeting and said that restaurants are going to have to deal with the challenge of educating their customers since many are coming from neighboring states or counties that have completely different COVID-19 safety guidelines.

"We have a lot of visitors coming from areas that don't have the same protocols and standards that we do, and we've learned, I think, human nature is what you've experienced is what you assume is everywhere," he said. "We almost have to educate when folks are getting here."

James Hargis, owner of the Blind Mule restaurant in Lake Toxaway, said he's been getting calls from people asking if they can come in and eat from other states where the restrictions were lifted earlier. Hargis said he is going to have challenges adapting to the limited capacity seating require-ments, as he has no outdoor seating options. He is worried customers might get frustrated when they see open tables but are turned away at the door because the restaurant is technically at capacity.

"You get people that get mad because they can't order off of a menu," he said. "I have people calling asking, 'Are you guys open?' So, the first question I ask is, 'Are you from Atlanta?'...I get it. I want to go sit down at a restaurant too. It becomes a challenge when you can't accommodate."

Hargis also said the fire capacity number is tricky for his business because the fire code counts a barstool seat as 3/4 of a person. With the capacity limited to 50 percent of the fire code number, Hargis wonders if will he get that 1/4 of a person excluded from the number he can allow in.

Many of the owners and managers on the Huddle Up call expressed apprehension around "the bathroom issue," or the issue of how best to apply social distancing and sanitation practices to folks needing to use the restroom.

For instance, at Oskar Blues Brewery there is a large outdoor patio and an outdoor food truck, which allows for easier social distancing than an indoor dining room, but the brewery's Aaron Baker said the restrooms are indoors.

Oskar Blues plans to move to table service for food and beverage service, where staff comes to you rather than customers having to line up at the bar or food truck.

"The bathroom question weighs heavy on us too," he said. "That's the major choke point we have in terms of we could have people siting outside 10 feet apart, but at a certain point they're going to have to go in the building and use the restroom and pass by each other."

Baker also said while having such a large outdoor space is an advantage when it comes to phase two guidelines it also presents unique challenges.

"We have a lot of natural advantages for this I guess," he said. "We have that bar that's outside, that's covered. I think outside spaces are going to be at a premium through all this. We're lucky to have all that, but I think it presents a lot of challenges in terms of crowd control. We're looking at probably having a door person, at least one, maybe two. Limiting the number of people that obviously are coming in but try to get them as the process of them coming as possible, so we can communicate to them whether we have space or not. What we don't want them to do is have them park, spend a long time walking up to the front and then us having to turn them around asking them to leave."

Cedar Mountain Café's owner Lucia Gerdes is planning to open only her outside patio for dine-in customers but brought up many questions that many other owners are having too.

"Outside doesn't have a fire code capacity. What are you going to do? Gerdes said. "Technically, there is no limit within reason because it's not directed by fire code like a building is. Are you limiting your outside capacity? What's your responsibility for that?"

Patricia Hawkins, from Transylvania Public Health, answered some of Gerdes's questions, but since guidance wasn't released at the time said she had to guess at some of the answers.

"For outside, I'm going to guess that will fall under what a mass gathering is," she said. "Right now it is 10... A family group is considered as one. They can sit within 6 feet of each other. Family groups that don't live together would have to sit 6 feet apart and that would be you kind of guessing."

The newly released guidance recommends restaurants allow no more than six people at a table unless they are a family from the same household, and that restaurants need not ask if groups are a family. It does not mention outside dining.

If a "family group" is considered "one" under a mass gathering, and there are four families sitting together, the math starts to get tricky, especially if it is unclear who belongs to what family.

"My personal opinion is your comfort level and the comfort of you and your staff is what most matters, Lovelace said. "If you put something up where people are ordering (saying) this is the requirements, that says that you must be family members in the same home etc., I feel like you've done your job and you don't have to police any more if you don't want should do something, but I'm no lawyer. That's just a sticky thing." As of Wednesday morning, it was still unclear what outside dining rules will apply in phase two.

On top of navigating businesses woes, many business owners expressed dealing with angry customers through the pandemic. Both Gerdes and Hargas said they've already dealt with customers who were angry they couldn't come inside and dine and that they had to order online.

Rocky's Grill and Soda Shop manager Adam Perkins said he's already experienced unfair online reviews from disgruntled customers.

"Those reviews are coming and it's going to happen, and people love to use Yelp and be internet warriors out there and be real tough," Perkins said. "I think they're not completely truthful...We got a review yesterday from a gentleman, and his review was, 'No one wearing facemask. Had facemasks on but they were all pulled down around their necks.' Well, that's just not true. We all had masks on, and one of our employees had come around from the other side of the counter. He is standing in front of that grill all day long and he had pulled it down. But everyone is wearing a mask.

"The irony of it is we looked up his profile and the guy is from out of town visiting here. He didn't have a mask on himself...We just kind of have to have thick skin through this and know that we are under a microscope and everyone's got an opinion.

"What we need to do is know that we're being as safe as we can. We're putting all of our own precautions in. We're doing the best job that we can do and kind of let those opinions fall by the wayside, because everyone is going to have an opinion. You're not doing enough or you're doing too much and you are instilling fear...It's very unfortunate that people feel that they need to do that, especially in a time where everyone is doing the best they can and trying to get their doors open and trying to make the few dollars that they can while it's available."

Though restaurants and bars are clearly dealing with unprecedented adversity, many showed creativity in adapting business to be as safe as possible.

Gerdes said the Ceder Mountain Café would continue with completely contactless ordering, where guests will be able to sit down, but still have to order online to limit employee interaction with customers. The café will move to all disposable eating utensils, and Gerdes said she was painting big rocks red and green to place on tables to signify if they have been sanitized yet. Red would signal the customers need to wait to sit down, and green would signal the table is clean.

Oskar Blues, on top of spreading tables out and switching to a table service model, has moved its "Makin' a Difference Mondaze" concert series to Facebook and Instagram. And on Monday the brewery broadcasted members from the Steep Canyon Rangers playing in the taproom to raise money for the Transylvania Tomorrow Small Business Emergency Relief Fund.

Adam and Dee Dee Perkins get Rocky's Grill and Soda Shop ready for Phase Two.

A new resolution from the Brevard City Council will allow downtown businesses to use parking areas in front of their businesses on Main and Broad streets for outdoor seating. Many said they were willing to take advantage of the new resolution.

However, some acknowledged that many of these adaptations are not without a cost.

Quixote manager Gabriel Garcia said, "We had tables with table cloths and everything, so we definitely will take those out. We'll try to work things out. Try to have our employees wearing masks and maybe gloves as well. We haven't thought about plastic utensils or plates or something like that. (I'm not sure) if it is feasible for the restaurant because at the end of the day we still have the same costs at the restaurant as before, but we have less revenue coming. So, anything we do from now on will increase our cost and it will decrease our revenue eventually."


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