Local restaurants could have many more patrons on site starting this weekend.
As part of the first phase of reopening the state amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of Charlottesville-area food and beverage establishments are choosing to open this weekend.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced this week that Phase One of reopening Virginia will in fact start Friday, easing some restrictions on restaurants, places of worship, exercise facilities, barbershops and hair salons.
Scott Roth, president of Three Notch’d Brewing Company, which will open its patio for service Friday, said the brewery wants to help set the standard for what it looks like to reopen under current circumstances.
“We’ve been prepared for this and have been talking through all of the ways to ensure everyone’s safety and do it in a very responsible manner,” Roth said. “We’ve got the staff to do it and we have the facilities to do it because we have more space than many other restaurants, specifically in downtown, do.”
Restaurants, food trucks, breweries, cideries, distilleries and wineries have to meet a number of requirements established by the state, including limiting outdoor occupancy to no more than 50% of normal capacity. Parties must be at least six feet apart and people waiting on sidewalks must distance themselves.
Employees working in customer dining and service areas are required to wear face coverings over their nose and mouth, and single-use disposable menus are required and must be discarded after each customer. Self-service of food and condiments is not allowed.
Earlier this week, Northam said localities can enact additional restrictions beyond the mostly statewide reopening guidelines, but that regions should act together. Northern Virginia, the city of Richmond and Accomack County will remain in Phase Zero for an additional two weeks.
The Thomas Jefferson Health District sent general notices about opening guidelines to area chambers of commerce and business associations, according to the district’s spokeswoman.
Separate notices have gone to restaurants and food establishments in the district, as well as other businesses that have eased restrictions.
During the last two weeks, the district has seen an increase in confirmed coronavirus cases, from 298 on May 1 to 364 on May 14.
Charlottesville spokesman Brian Wheeler said the city encourages the public to eat at local restaurants, in whatever manner works best for their health and safety.
“We expect some will test the waters with outdoor seating areas, but on the Downtown Mall, the seating space is limited with the physical distancing requirements,” he said. “We will share some signage with the restaurants that are opening their patios that reinforce the safe distances. The idea is the sign would be outward facing to the pathway.”
If someone has concerns, Wheeler said they can call the health district hotline at (434) 972-6261 and be forwarded to the locality’s non-emergency police line.
George Hodson, CEO of Veritas Winery, said the Afton establishment is now taking hourly reservations for Friday and onward for about 25 spots with a picnic table and tent.
“It’s almost like a cabana at a pool, where you know that you have this place,” he said. “That’s where they’re going to be able to order their food, order their wine. They’re going to be able to have touch-free transactions.”
Hodson said winery staff will not venture into the reserved areas, and that there will be a dropoff table for customers to get their food and wine.
“It might be overboard for a lot of them, or it might be more than they could ever want and they’re perfectly unafraid,” he said. “But what we’re doing is we’re trying to make sure that the person who is venturing out at the edge of their comfort level can have a wonderful time.”
Hodson, who was named to Virginia’s COVID-19 Business Task Force and is also president of the Monticello Wine Trail and the Virginia Wineries Association, said winery operators have been consistently sharing with each other what they’re doing throughout the pandemic.
“It’s not the governor’s directives that are going to open the Virginia economy — the consumer is going to open the Virginia economy,” he said. “And so knowing that they can go to places and be safe and have a good time is the cornerstone of what we’ve been doing, and our whole entire industry is committed to making sure that all wineries are viewed as fun, enjoyable and safe places to go.”
The Three Notch’d Craft Kitchen and Brewery location at the IX Art Park has been operating with staff as it services its beer distribution network, as well as delivery and takeout.
“We fully understand that everybody’s in the same storm but we’re all in different boats, and we’re going to continue with our curbside and our delivery program,” Roth said. “If it’s not right for people to come out to the patio right now, we totally get it.”
Roth said Three Notch’d will have about 40 seats on the patio open for customers and have separated designated waiting areas, in an effort to control traffic flow. The brewery will ask customers to wear masks to and from the table if they have to use the restroom, and to work with their server to make sure multiple people aren’t in the restroom at the same time.
Three Notch’d is doing daily wellness checks and screenings for all staff members, he said. Hand sanitizer will be at every table and every surface will be sanitized between uses.
But not everyone is leaping at the opportunity to reopen.
Some establishments — such as Lampo, Champion Brewing Company and Kardinal Hall — have announced that for the time being they will continue to only have takeout and/or delivery options.
Melissa Meece, owner of Firefly in Charlottesville, said that while the restaurant is building an expanded patio, she is only planning on takeout and delivery for the foreseeable future.
“What I’ve heard from customers is that they want to do takeout and delivery, that’s their comfort zone, that’s where customers want to keep supporting local,” she said. “They’ve been doing such an amazing job of supporting the local businesses and restaurants right now, but they’re not quite ready to go out to eat yet.”
Roth said he and his staff know the current regulations and will depend on everyone to follow them.
“We’ll be vigilant about making sure that our customers are doing the right thing because that’s the other part of the equation, right?” he said. “We can do everything right, but we need our customers to be in this with us as well and set the right example while they’re out to eat.”