Day 1 of Phase 1: Portland restaurant opens for breakfast
Multnomah became the last Oregon county to move into Phase 1 of COVID-19 pandemic health guidelines on Friday. For some restaurants it couldn't come soon enough.
Ed and Cheryl Casey, owner operators of Cheryl's, a New American cuisine restaurant at Southwest 12th and Washington in downtown Portland, opened their doors Friday June 19 and welcomed their first guests at 7.30 a.m. Twelve staff —down from the usual pre-pandemic 25 — were learning on the job about how to hand sanitize between interactions, when to change latex gloves, and how to bring out single-serve condiments in a plastic tackle box.
First through the door was the Solorio family on vacation from near Los Angeles, California: Cheryl, Phil, Miranda and little Evie.
They had driven up Highway 101, hugging the coast all the way, before heading to Seattle then down to Las Vegas.
"We've been cooped up for so long." said Cheryl Solorio with joy and relief. They had been using Hotels.com to find lodging and "winging it" by living on grab-and-go grocery foods and take-out ("Pizzas!" Phil said). They were just excited to sit down and have someone serve them. Very limited dining-in service began in California one week ago.
"We love going out to eat and experiencing the food in actual restaurants. It's the presentation, I think we can joy the food better," she added.
Cheryl Casey brought Cheryl Solorio a complimentary mug with "Cheryl's" on it. They were just pleased to see each other. The coloring sheets to keep kids occupied still had the Easter Bunny on them, as though time stood still in March.
The Solorios were staying at the Hampton Inn in the Pearl District and saw a lot of police and clean-up crews after the demonstration outside Mayor Ted Wheeler's home on Wednesday night and Thursday morning. They said they are hoping to avoid Seattle's CHOP (Capitol Hill Organized Protest) during their stay near the Space Needle.
"It's been difficult, but at the same time, I mean, we have wonderful travelers," said Phil referring to the kids. Each family member had their phone or tablet at the table. Cheryl's restaurant has a QR card for pulling up the menu.
The Caseys switched their service to take out in March and saw their catering business fall to tiny orders of five and six people. Ed Casey said they now can run at 40% dining room capacity with the tables spaced out by 6 feet. They stored the rest of the tables and chairs at their home in Sherwood. At 40% capacity, they have 35 seats inside and 16 on the sidewalk.
After last week when Gov. Kate Brown delayed reopening with 12 hours to spare, this week they had two days to prepare. They called up staff, emailed all their regular customers, and started taking reservations for the weekend. Cheryl Casey said she was getting used to her full-face medical-grade shield, since she finds it much more comfortable than wearing a mouth mask for eight hours.
Their catering business has had around 50 weddings canceled in 2020. There are a handful of corporate events on the books for later this year but times are hard.
"We just have to bear with it until we can get up to a point where the run rates make it work," Ed Casey said. "We've got to do about 65% of what we were doing before just to hit breakeven. It's a stretch."
They kept on several staff during take-out phase just to keep them going, using a federal Payroll Protection Plan loan and company savings. "Quite a few employees for whatever reason couldn't get benefits," he said. "So, we've employed them. And we still have employees that have not received any unemployment. Really. It's been three months. They were approved and supposedly the money is accruing in an account."
He was not happy with the bureaucracy of the PPP loan system and its changing rules. "They're trying to administer that PPP thing without really having clear guidelines on the forgiveness."
A look of fear came into Ed Casey's eyes over his face mask as he considered the idea of a second wave of COVID-19 cases. Could he handle Multnomah County going backwards from Phase 1 to Phase 0 again?
"We can't go through this again," Ed Casey said. "Financially, we would shut it down. And depending on how long another shutdown went, it would just probably close it down and wait," for the end of the pandemic. "We can't continue operating at that kind of a loss."
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