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Chefs and business owners called on the state to close restaurants immediately, citing health and financial concerns and insurance regulations.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Looking like a scene from an Edward Hopper painting, a popular suburban breakfast place sits empty at 7 a.m. Monday, March 16, as fears of the coronavirus keep people out of restaurants and bars. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced Monday afternoon that all bars and restaurants must offer only takeout food and drink service, effective immediately.

Heavy limits on social gatherings were also implemented.

But before making that call, some business owners had asked the governor to close them down, saying that staying open negates social distancing guidelines and leaves them with little to no customers, which hurts them more.

More than 100 Portland-area chefs and restaurant owners signed an open letter to Gov. Kate Brown asking for the governor's office to shut down restaurants and bars, and to implement economic aid to ease the financial blow to businesses and employees.

Restaurant and business owners say that, without a mandatory closure, they can't file insurance claims to recoup lost profits.

The letter requests the state "takes immediate Executive Action to require all restaurants and bars cease operations immediately."

"As an industry, we have always taken great care to provide a safe and clean environment for our staff and guests," the letter states. "However the very act of serving food to a diner requires that we violate social distancing protocols. We find ourselves faced with the impossible choice of putting our staff at risk physically or financially. We also now know that asymptomatic transmission appears to be playing more of a role in the spread of this virus than initially described."

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Even industy giant Starbucks is changing its business model in light of the corinavirus outbreak.

Kurt Huffman, owner of ChefStable, operates some of Portand's biggest names in dining and nightlife, told the Oregonian he was voluntarily closing his bars and restaurants.

Oaks Bottom Public House did the same.

"Like many in our industry, we are concerned about the role restaurants are playing in the ongoing spread of the virus," Chris Crabb stated on behalf of the Sellwood bar Monday. "We will keep a close eye on the situation and will continue to post updates on social media."

Five other states, including neighbors California and Washington, have ordered bars and wineries mandatorily closed. Restaurants were asked to reduce their service capacity by half in California. In Washington, they were ordered closed, along with bars, for two weeks.

The direction from Brown's office came on the eve of St. Patrick's Day, notoriously known as one of the busiest days of the year for bars.

Before Monday afternoon's announcement from the governor's office, many of the state's coffee shops already had announced they were voluntarily suspending all in-house orders, offering customers take-away cups and utensils only.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Phillip Stewart prepares a latte in a cup to go for a customer Monday morning at Coffee Beer. Stewart, like many coffee shop owners, says his business will only serve drinks to-go for the time being."We are currently working to keep our employees and community safe. Today we are doing 'to go' only and closing early," said Jessica Pierce, co-owner of CoffeeBeer, a Portland coffee shop and bar. "Tomorrow we might be doing something different, we're rolling with the punches and taking it seriously."

Pierce's business partner, Phillip Stewart, said calls to their insurance company have not been returned. Instead, they've been met with automated responses, leaving more uncertainty about how or if they can recoup lost profits.

The prospect of a shutdown on bars could have a unique impact on the Southeast Portland coffee bar and bottle shop, whose baristas turn to bartenders as the evening hours set in. The same goes for Tigard-based Symposium Coffee, with two locations in Washington County. The owners had already removed tables in the cafe, to create a bigger barrier between customers, and also switched to disposable cups. Symposium's owner took it a step further and created his own hand sanitizer in-house, using strong liquor like Everclear on-hand at the cafe's whiskey bar.

While bars in some states have been ordered to close, restaurants have not. Instead, elected leaders have asked restaurants in states like California to reduce their dining capacity and serve takeout food.PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Phillip Stewart, co-owner of Coffee Beer in southeast Portland, is one of several coffee shop owners who switched to serving takeout food and drinks only. The business owners say they're prepared to close the cafe temporarily, if ordered by the state.

"In all the books we've read, jobs we've had, tools and training, pandemic isn't anywhere in the instruction manual," Pierce said. "The best we can do is our best and remember that everyone is human and we have to take care of ourselves and others in these times."

Brown cited the need for access to food as a reason for not immediately asking bars and restaurants to stop or reduce their service, but moments before, she urged everyone to practice social distancing.

"We know the virus is in our communities," Brown said Monday morning. "The only thing we know to do is slow the transmission. You can be contagious even if you are asymptomatic. Following the guidelines on social distancing is a matter of life and death for others."

Instead of more business closures, Gov. Brown urged preparation, compassion and cooperation.

"It may seem like we're in the middle of this, but I want to convey that in terms of timeline and impact, we're really just at the beginning."


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