Salisbury restaurant owners eager to reopen businesses

City of Salisbury officials fast-tracked Evolution’s plans to provide expanded outdoor seating at The Public House in Downtown Salisbury, but state officials have yet to allow eateries to accommodate diners.

Owners of restaurants and bars that have been closed since March 16 are hoping Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan will soon ease restrictions to allow outdoor dining, and they have Comptroller Peter Franchot in their corner.

“This particular sector needs a little bit of attention,” he said during a Board of Public Works meeting last week.

Maryland is currently in Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan, but restaurants are in Phase 2.

The hospitality industry has been “hammered” since they were forced to close 10 weeks ago amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Franchot said, and he urged Hogan to allow patio and sidewalk seating at eateries in advance of Phase 2.

“If we don’t do that, we’re going to have a wasteland,” he said.

John Knorr, co-owner of Evolution Craft Brewing in Salisbury with his brother Tom, serves on a restaurant industry advisory board that recommended outdoor dining be included in Phase 1, but that didn’t happen. So far, there has been no response from the governor about whether he will agree to the proposal, but Knorr hopes Hogan will allow them to reopen as soon as this Friday.

Restaurants are having a tough time, and Knorr predicted 25 percent to 40 percent of them won’t survive the shutdown.

“We haven’t seen anyone close so far, but there’s a lot of upset operators,” he said.

Restaurants have already lost income from two popular dining-out holidays — Easter and Mother’s Day — and now they have lost money by being closed over Memorial Day weekend. Additionally, owners had to throw out perishable foods when they were ordered to shut down on short notice. At Evo, it came to between $30,000 and $40,000 in wasted product, Knorr said.

Although outdoor dining isn’t yet allowed, the Knorrs are prepared for it. They recently expanded the outdoor seating at Evo to accommodate up to 200 people with social distancing. The expansion was already in Evo’s master plan, and the brothers decided to fast track it to be ready once the closure order was lifted.

The Knorrs also own Boonie’s in Tyaskin and Bull Lips in Whitehaven, both with outdoor seating. However, their popular Red Roost with only two outdoor tables likely won’t reopen until indoor dining is allowed.

Salisbury’s reopening plan announced by Mayor Jake Day on May 18 includes relief for restaurant owners, once the governor’s order allows for outdoor dining.

The plan establishes a multi-department restaurant outdoor dining review team, a 24-hour review timeline for restaurants for expanded outdoor dining areas on public or private property, cooperation with the Wicomico County Board of License Commissioners to approve expansion of coterminous boundaries for liquor licensed premises and an online application portal.

The city so far has approved outdoor seating expansions at Evo, Backstreet Grill and the Bagel Bakery, and Fratelli’s has submitted an application, Day said.

“Our city and county officials have been super,” Knorr said.

Meanwhile, he and other restaurant owners are concerned that there has been no guidance from the health department on what to expect when they are allowed to reopen.

“What’s that going to look like?” he said.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland has outlined a set of guidelines and recommendations that addresses the safety of employees and the public while reopening restaurants.

Starting with outdoor seating, the “Restaurants are Ready” plan recommends:

  • The maximum total of dine-in customers at one time in any outdoor seating area shall be 50 people, regardless of physical distanced seating capacity.
  • The maximum number of customers at any one outdoor table setting shall be six people.
  • Customers will not be permitted to stand in the outdoor seating area and must be assigned a table.

“We strongly believe that permitting outdoor seating prior to Phase Two of Governor Hogan’s Roadmap to Recovery plan is a smart, responsible approach allowing for the public to have a gradual return to dine-in options,” said Marshall Weston Jr., the association’s president & CEO.

State Sen. Mary Beth Carozza also called on Hogan to communicate the date of reopening restaurants and to issue the official operational guidelines as soon as possible.

“Delaware, Virginia and other states already have announced their reopening dates and issued their guidelines,” she said. “Our restaurant operators have been involved in putting together health, safety, sanitation, and physical distancing protocols, consistent with the National Restaurant Association and the CDC.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Maryland Department of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage

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