Erecting a large white tent spanning the length of its parking lot, The Lynhall took advantage of the easing of patio dining restrictions in early June. Although navigating the recent windy days and heat waves has been hard, owner Anne Spaeth said the pandemic has taught her team to be more creative and resourceful.
Shifting some of its traditionally family-style menu items to single-serving plates and shareable, bundled to-go dinners, The Lynhall has tried to roll with the punches despite running its operation on 25% of normal sales.
“We’re just going to have to continue as a restaurant industry to … meet people where their comfort level is, and that’s exactly what we’ve been managing through all of this,” Spaeth said.
Restaurant owners have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, and although some have been able to open for limited patio or inside dining on June 1, many restaurants have been taking it day by day, sometimes even hour by hour, to adjust their menus and staffing to shifting conditions.
Although she loves patio season and has a patio large enough to comply with the governor’s social distancing requirements, Niki Stavrou said she’s not sure when it’ll be safe enough to dine inside her Cuban restaurant, Victor’s 1959 Cafe. Because people can’t wear masks while they’re eating, the risk that comes with table service is one of the defining factors preventing her from fully reopening.
“It might seem overly cautious to some,” she said. “But there are others to consider — our employees and our customers are important; they’re people.”
Known for its “Love” sandwich made with pulled pork and a mango guava barbeque sauce, Victor’s has had to limit what’s on the menu based on the budget and nearly weekly changes in deliveries. At the beginning of quarantine, Stavrou had trouble finding mangos and the specific type of steak she usually uses in her dishes. Other ingredient availabilities change week to week, making it hard to keep some meals available.
“Even looking as far as five months ahead is daunting,” said Sam Peterson, owner of the Kingfield Japanese eatery Kyatchi. “It’s been busier than I’ve expected us to be, but I don’t know if it’ll be busy enough for us to make it.”
Many of Peterson’s hot noodles and rice dishes don’t transport well as to-go items, and since the pandemic, it has also been harder to find sustainably caught fish.
Despite the pandemic, he said, people are always going to want sushi, delivery and takeout meals, so businesses like his are just going to have to adjust to this new market of desires and needs.
Hector Ruiz, owner of the Latin-fusion bistro Cafe Ena in Tangletown, said he is plan- ning to take the summer at a loss and focus on planning for the future. He considered himself lucky to be able to open his patio and has been tweaking his menu to fall back on simpler ingredients and comfort foods to make it more affordable for his customers.
He said now is the time to step up to the challenge and be creative with what you have. “If you cannot adjust to the challenge,” he said. “I think you have to kind of look for another type of job.”
One additional difficulty Ruiz and other owners are facing is finding staff to come back and work as their businesses reopen.
Ruiz said some of his former servers are satisfied with receiving unemployment checks and didn’t necessarily want to come back to work when he opened again. In order to stay in business, half the servers he’s hired are new, and Ruiz has had to spend more time training them on the protocols and menus. If one of his employees gets sick, he said, he might have to close down.
“To be honest, I’m really scared for everyone with how this pandemic is going to react in the fall and the winter,” Ruiz said. “I cannot afford to be closed for another two weeks to a month … everything is on the line.”