Restaurants welcome back indoor diners
While the weather didn't do Chris Sjolin any favors this past Friday and Saturday, Feb. 12 and Feb. 13, the fact his Cooper Mountain Ale Works was even open proved to be a boon for his downtown Tigard business.
"A ton of other places were closed, so we were looking to capitalize on giving an excellent experience to folks who might normally have gone elsewhere," said Sjolin. "My wife and I both have very capable (all-wheel drive) vehicles, so we picked up and dropped off several of our employees, and we just rocked it all the way through the weekend."
Sjolin's pub and restaurant, like so many other area restaurants, just came off a three-month shutdown for indoor dining service during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Friday, restaurants — along with gyms and movie theaters — were able to fill their businesses to 25% capacity, or 50 people, whichever is fewer.
Sjolin said the last few months have not been kind to his business. Several employees left to take full-time jobs that allow them to work at home during the pandemic, he added.
"We have enough staff to get back up and running at 25% capacity, but not much more than that at this point," Sjolin said. "We will need to hire pretty soon."
Sjolin said because of the large square footage of the restaurant and pub, formerly known as Max's Fanno Creek Brew Pub, they can seat at least 50 people inside, which is more than they were able to seat outside.
He said staff are also following all the protocols required by the state, including sanitizing each table between every customer and even wiping down the menus after each customer.
Still, the restaurant owner said he's miffed that Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority haven't laid out a clear reason for having closed restaurants and bars to indoor seating in the first place.
"There was absolutely a huge surge in cases in early November from Halloween, and then following with Thanksgiving and Christmas," he said. "These surges were from private parties and were neither caused by nor contributed to by bars and restaurants."
To stress his point, Cooper Mountain Ale Works began pouring a new beer called "Kate's Nutty Shutdown Brown" on Friday.
Sjolin said the goal is to provoke a discussion about whether patrons of local bars and restaurants have really been spreading COVID-19. In addition, he wants to find out if there was "enough enforcement of the previous set of guidelines to show that the government was willing to treat businesses with the respect that some of them earned through their attention to detail in preventing it." By Sjolin's estimation, many businesses did not enforce strict protocols, and there was no enforcement in following up.
At any rate, he plans to give $2 of every pint earned from the sale of the ale to Family Meal PDX.
Just up the street from Sjolin, Chris Haedinger of Beach Hut Deli said business was fairly busy on Monday.
He said it feels good just seeing tables and chair once again spread out in the dining area instead of being piled up in the back.
"I walked in today for the first time in a while because I've been gone for two weeks … there's people sitting in a booth and there's noise," observed Haedinger. "It's a good feeling. It was missed for the last few months."
Haedinger said he's hoping to have his restaurant filled to 25% capacity, which means about 15 patrons at a time.
While Haedinger said the deli was doing OK with only to-go orders over the last several months, along with those who chose to dine outside beneath the the upgraded tent structure on the back patio, the real profits come from sit-down diners.
"It's nice to have that option," he said, adding his worry is only that it might last only two weeks before another potential shutdown.
Still, customers were busy the last several days ordering what they have in the past — one of eight soups, sandwiches and beer.
"I think even if it stays at a high-risk level, at 25%, I think that's already a big improvement," said Haedinger. "It definitely helps."
While he doesn't think Washington County restaurants will move to the "moderate risk" category anytime soon, if they do, that's great as well, he said.
At Gustav's Pub & Grill across the street from Washington Square Mall, staff was preparing to reopen.
"Weather permitting, we're opening Wednesday," said Mike Bottinelli, a manager at the Southwest Greenburg Road restaurant known for its hearty German cuisine.
Bottinelli said there was lots of preparation going on before the big reopening — after this newspaper's press deadline — including ordering food and lining up the restaurant's staff.
"We're all excited to be back to work," said Bottinelli.
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