With a new look and new guidelines, local favorite returns to a new version of normal.

NEWBERG GRAPHIC: GARY ALLEN - The exterior of the Newberg Abby's restaurant got a facelift to go along with major improvements made to the inside of the favorite eatery.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Abby's Pizza in Newberg already was serving takeout and delivery only. This was because the legendary restaurant was undergoing major renovations, a first-of-its-kind endeavor in the decades that the local Abby's has been dishing out pizza to the hungry masses.

Now, with Yamhill County in Phase 2 of its reopening, the new and improved restaurant is open again to customers with a sleek, modern look.

"In January, we shut down before COVID started to start the remodel," manager Jesse Woolen said. "While some places were remodeling because of COVID, we were already in the midst of that. We had the jump on the pickup and delivery-only thing and kept it going as COVID started. The process was really smooth, and we stayed busy thanks to the support of the community. Sales were good."

A four-month process became a five-month one as things slowed down due to the pandemic. After closing Jan. 5, the dining room reopened June 5. While sales were fine and the business hummed along without missing a beat, remodeling became more challenging due to COVID-19 restrictions on construction and contract work.

NEWBERG GRAPHIC: GARY ALLEN - The Neweberg Abby's retains the historic photos and murals carried over from the original store.

"We finished remodeling the kitchen, then we tarped it off so we could do some orders out of that," Woolen said. "Things would change throughout the remodel with serving people, and our timelines would change because we couldn't have a crew of 20 or 30 guys working on the remodel. Due to COVID we could only have like 10, and stuff like that pushed us back for our opening of the dining room."

The result is a clean, sleek, modern interior with plenty of space during the era of social distancing. There are fewer tables than anticipated to make sure customers keep their space, but patrons can look around the restaurant and find homages to Newberg's cultural identity. A sprawling mural on the righthand side when one enters the restaurant features pictures of wine country, iconic landmarks in Newberg and key moments in the city's history.

While things look markedly different, the response so far has been positive — both in the number of customers coming through the doors and their thoughts on the appearance of the new dining room.

NEWBERG GRAPHIC: GARY ALLEN - Although the layout is similar to the original, the kitchen in the remodeled restaurants has seen numerous upgrades.

"So far, it's been great," Woolen said. "First weekend was awesome and everybody had really positive feedback on what we've done and what we've changed. Some people are surprised on how different it is, because we've changed so much of the inside. People come in and say they've grown up with Abby's and that they even hate to see a new look after so many years of the same thing. I just appreciate that people care so much about my restaurant and that it matters so much to the community."

There has been a steady flow of customers in the first week of reopening and with less seating comes increased precautions by Abby's employees. When they aren't saying hello to regulars and greeting customers new and old, workers in masks are sanitizing surfaces and keeping their distance. The salad bar is prepackaged only and the kitchen and registers are shielded by plastic barriers.

Woolen said the restaurant is taking more steps than is required by law to keep its customers safe. He hopes the subtle changes to service don't distract from the overwhelming changes to the dining room, which he said will benefit the restaurant and its patrons in the long run.

"When they designed this, they had the town in mind," Woolen said. "I think that once people see it, they will realize it's the same experience, just with a slightly different look. It was all done in the right way to honor the community."

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