The staff at The Vineyard Restaurant and Bar welcomed guests back to the Madera eatery. Photo courtesy Chris Mariscotti.
Written by Edward Smith
Update: Since writing this article, Gov. Gavin Newsom directed seven California counties to close bars, including Fresno, Kings, Tulare, Kern, San Joaquin, Imperial and Los Angeles counties.
A step backwards in opening business back up following shelter-in-place has the potential to be “devastating” to the restaurant industry. And one restaurateur begs people to do what they can to keep infection numbers from rising.
In Texas, Florida and Idaho, measures have already been taken to restrict restaurants a second time in response to spiking COVID-19 numbers. Seating capacity was reduced back to 50% at restaurants and bars were ordered closed once again, according to Eater.com. On-site alcohol consumption at bars has been ordered to stop in Florida. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday said if infections continue to rise, parts of the economy could be shut down again.
Bars and brewpubs that don’t serve food were ordered to close Sunday. And alcohol transactions are limited to only those made when ordering food, the order from the California Department of Public Health stated. The order exempted bars that partner with food vendors such as a food truck.
Chuck Van Fleet, owner of Vino Grille and Spirits and president of the Fresno chapter of the California Restaurant Association doesn’t even want to think about the possibility of reverting.
“If they decide to close us back down again, it’s going to be devastating beyond belief,” Van Fleet said.
Fridges and freezers have been restocked. Kitchen and wait staff have been rehired. Perishable food could go bad and restaurant revenue has only now started to recovered from the losses of being limited to take-out.
As of June 15, 140,000 businesses listed on Yelp have still not opened. And of all the business closures on the website since March 1, 41% have shuttered permanently, according to a Marketwatch article from June 25. “If they shut us down again, you would see even a larger number,” said Van Fleet.
In Madera, after May 26 when restaurants were allowed to reopen, business at The Vineyard Restaurant and Bar was “very, very good” according to owner Chris Mariscotti.
Even without banquets, tourism and business travelers, they were averaging between 65-70% of revenue for a normal day.
“It was fun being open those first days, people were excited, they were happy to see you and be around other people and having that experience and just got a lot of positive, positive response from our guests,” Mariscotti said.
Mariscotti worked with the Madera County Health Department as well as other restaurant representatives to develop a plan to safely reopen. They put plastic partitions between booths and removed tables to create six-feet of distance. Sanitizer is everywhere and disposable menus were brought to customers. In all, Mariscotti estimates they put $2,000 to $3,000 in getting The Vineyard up to snuff. Other restaurants have spent far more than he has, Mariscotti said.
“We’re doing everything we can and if we end up closing down, it’s not because of what we’re doing, it’s because of what people aren’t doing,” said Van Fleet.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a daily briefing that they believe the surge of infections has come from public gatherings. As of Wednesday, people aged between 18-49 years old made up 56% of positive COVID-19 cases, according to an L.A. Times article Friday.
“Now that we’re all geared up and we’ve resupplied and I’ve got a walk-in box full of food and perishable supplies, I would hate to think we’d have to go shut the door on it for an unknown period of time,” said Mariscotti. On top of that, Mariscotti worries about having to let go of staff he rehired recently.
Van Fleet hopes that instead of rolling back guidelines for opening businesses, California would instead slow down advancing.
He also hopes people would do their part. People appreciate the work done at Vino Grille and Spirits to take extra cleaning precautions. Van Fleet has also had to hire on more people because of the extra work. But while many people have been cooperative about wearing masks, there are a number of people who are “defiant” about putting on masks.
“We must can’t go through this again,” said Van Fleet. “Literally, I hate talking about it because it’s one of those things that’s maybe in the back of your head. We don’t want to hear it, we don’t want to start the rumors, we don’t want to start people thinking about it.”