Restaurants resume in-person dining

By John Finefrock
Staff Writer

Per state guidelines, restaurants around Pagosa Springs were allowed to open yesterday for in-person dining.

The SUN spoke with a handful of local restaurant owners who outlined the precautions businesses will take, as mandated by the state, which include:

• Spacing tables at least 6 feet apart.

• Operating at 50 percent of the posted indoor occupancy limit, or 50 people, whichever is less. Outdoor seating does not have a limit on the number of patrons, though social distancing must be followed.

• All restaurant staff will wear masks and patrons at most of the Pagosa restaurants will “be encouraged” to wear them while they wait to be seated, when they walk to the restroom and while they exit the facility.

• Menus will be disposable and only used once.

• Hand sanitizer will be readily available to dining guests.

• Employees will have their temperatures taken at the beginning of each shift and be screened for COVID-19 symptoms.

“We’re going to be using a lot more technology,” said Tony Simmons, owner of Pagosa Brewing and Grill. “We’re going to be able to page people, like text ‘em when their table is ready so they don’t have to wait in a line per se. We can seat 150 people outside —there’s no limit outside what we can do.”

Simmons explained that Pagosa Brewing now boasts a dog-friendly area, citing his business was one, if not the only restaurant in the area, that received that permit because “we have a separate entrance for dogs.”

Simmons also noted the size of his facility makes it easier to comply with social distancing requirements.

“We’re really fortunate with a beer garden like this, that’s what makes it really special for us. And inside we’re the largest facility in town, so we can alternate booths and then you get the distancing,” he said, adding, “I went to brewing school in Germany man, I know what a beer garden’s supposed to be.”

He’s taken additional precautions like doing temperature screenings for employees to ensure they’re not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms and routinely disinfecting and cleaning the facility.

“I have a responsibility not only to my family, but to my team here,” Simmons said. “If people get sick here, it’s gonna shut us down and that’s not responsible to our community — and we’re really community-minded on this whole thing.”

Simmons has also made all his restrooms single occupancy only.

“So people aren’t crowding restrooms,” he said.

Jason Cox, co-owner of Riff Raff Brewing Company, told The SUN Tuesday “we’re ready to go” for in-person dining.

“The requirements were a little less strict than we were anticipating,” Cox said of the state’s recently released restaurant guidelines, “which implies that the data has been positive with retail being opened.”

Cox is taking similar, if not identical measures to ensure safety at his restaurant and to follow state guidelines. 

Riff Raff’s two locations will have disposable menus, temperature and symptom checks for employees, hand sanitizer for all, and outdoor seating will be expanded.

“We’re using the Riverwalk trail that goes through our property,” Cox said. “The town is allowing us to put some seats out there that don’t impede people walking by … We’re maximizing our outdoor space so we can maximize seating.”

Cox said 100 percent of core staff have come back to work. He noted that Riff Raff is not pursuing its normal early-summer hiring boom.

“Normally, we’d be hiring like crazy now,” he said. “We have not done that this year. We haven’t hired any of our normally seasonal employees, which is a bummer.”

Bob Hart, owner of Mountain Pizza and Taproom, explained that during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, his business was operating at about 15 percent of normal compared to years prior.

On Tuesday, Hart noted that business is coming back and currently is operating at about 40 percent of normal.

He estimated that once in-person dining resumes, his business will slightly increase to about 50 percent of normal, noting his monetary losses in the COVID-19 pandemic have equated to tens of thousands of dollars.

“We’re gonna follow state guidelines, which is basically when you enter, you should be wearing a face mask and then once you’re seated at your table, you can remove your face mask to eat, of course,” Hart said.

Jim McDermaid, manager of Alley House Grille, outlined his goals for reopening in-person dining.

“We still want our guests to come in, have a great time and enjoy,” he said, adding, “That’s our No. 1 goal is that everyone gets a good hour and half, nice dinner and relaxes with their family and friends.”

McDermaid is encouraging customers to make reservations by calling or via email at contact@alleyhousegrille.com.

He explained that Alley House’s restrooms and door handles will be sanitized every 30 minutes and he’s taking employee’s temperatures and tracking symptoms when they get to work.

Amanda Jones, owner of The Lost Cajun, said her team has been working hard “to create an atmosphere that people want to come back to.”

“We just want our guests to come back and have a good time,” she said.

Jones said the directive from the governor’s office “encourages patrons to wear masks, but it doesn’t say that they have to absolutely.”

Jones stated that keeping a positive attitude has been paramount over the past few months and that she had to lay off employees for about the last eight weeks.

“Which was hard on them,” she said, adding, “Some of them aren’t coming back to work because they went out and found other jobs.”

Jones expressed that The Lost Cajun is adhering to the rules set forth by the state and is looking forward to reopening for in-person dining.

Archuleta County
variance

Cox, who has led the charge in putting together a variance application to allow Archuleta County to have less strict rules for some businesses than state guidelines, told The SUN the variance application is still going forward, despite state rules for restaurants being less strict than many anticipated.

In an email, he wrote that San Juan Basin Public Health gave feedback on the request on Tuesday evening and he’s awaiting their final approval. 

He noted the variance must also get approved by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe.

If those two entities approve the variance, it will go to the Archuleta County commissioners for a vote and, if passed, will be sent to the state health department for final approval.

Asked what was different between the county’s variance request and the most recent state guidelines, Cox wrote, “The Archuleta County variance specifies policies for places of worship, gyms and fitness facilities, spas and hot springs and restaurants/bars.”

He said the “main difference” between the variance and state guidelines pertaining to restaurants is that the variance requests “to allow bars to reopen even if they have only minimal food service.”

Summer camps

On Monday, the governor gave updated guidelines on camps for children.

“Children’s day camps and youth sports camps will open on Monday, June 1, 2020,” a press release from the governor’s office reads. “Residential overnight camps will be closed in June. Decisions for July and August overnight camps will be made in mid-June. Children’s residential camps that choose to operate as day camps must work with the Colorado Department of Human Services and their local public health agency (LPHA) for approval. Day camps, including mobile, youth sports camps, and outdoor camps, must operate with restrictions and strong precautionary measures …”

Food pantries

Simmons stressed that local food banks have critically low supplies amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Need has doubled since COVID started and donations have dropped off since the weather got warm,” he said.

Pagosa Brewing is accepting donations to relay to local food banks and more information about all the food pantries in Archuleta County can be found at: https://www.archuletacounty.org/235/Food-Assistance.

 

 

 

This story was posted on May 28, 2020.