While some businesses in northern regions of Michigan are scrambling to prepare for an accelerated reopening ahead of Memorial Day weekend, Detroit restaurant owner Mona Gardner feels nearly ready welcome customers back for sit-down dining. Despite the executive order requiring restaurants across the state to keep dining rooms closed through May 28, Gardner is preparing for the possibility of reopening her restaurant Brush Street Bar & Grille in Detroit for patio service very soon.
On Monday, based on information she gathered from the city, Gardner sent out a text to customers notifying them that the restaurant was accepting reservations for patio seating starting May 28. Reached by Eater, Gardner said she had already received several reservations to sit on Brush Street’s new outdoor seating area, which features eight tables spaced out at least six feet with room for groups of four people. All that is on hold for now, though.
While Gardner believed that she would be allowed to host customers outdoors starting May 28, Eater inquired with the city health department and confirmed that there’s no expectation at this time for restaurants in Detroit to resume patio or dine-in service. A representative for the health department notes that the call for reopening is at the discretion of the governor’s office.
Gardner’s experience highlights the complex and often confusing guidelines restaurant and bar owners are being asked to navigate in the pandemic and the lengths to which business owners will go to offer in-person dining.
Brush Street Bar & Grille, like so many business, has struggled to pivot during the partial shutdown. The 168-seat restaurant, which opened last fall, catered largely to customers visiting nearby sports venues and was focused on dine-in service. “It hit us pretty hard,” she says, noting that many of the private events Brush Street had booked for the year are now cancelled. “It took it to a total standstill, because we didn’t have the carryout already established,” she says.
Nonetheless, Gardner is gearing up her Creole restaurant and sports bar to operate as safely as possible in the pandemic. She’s taken the the last two months to educate herself, carefully following the news around the world to gather ideas for how best to promote safer service and social distancing in her restaurant. Gardner estimates she’s spent roughly $5,000 investing in equipment like face shields, gloves, masks, and plexiglass guards. The restaurant now features an enclosed takeout area inside and a plexiglass wall enclosing its long bar and dividing tables in the dining room. She’s also applied for a carryout liquor license that will allow Brush Street to sell beer and wine to-go.
When she’s allowed to do so, Gardner plans to seat customers by reservation only. Customers will place orders for carryout and then will be texted to come retrieve their meal when the order is ready. When they’re finished, customers can bus their own table using the outdoor garbage cans rather than having employees handle trash. A staff member will then go out to sanitize the seating area before the next group is seated. Common spaces like restrooms will also be sanitized every half hour.
Restaurant dining rooms have been closed since March 16, but carryout and delivery is still permitted. On Monday, Gov. Whitmer began the process of slowly lifting restrictions on bars and restaurants in Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula — allowing regular service to resume with 50 percent reduction in seating capacity and a safety plan.
Under Whitmer’s MI Safe Start Plan, restaurants and bars are allowed to begin resuming some indoor operations in stage five, somewhat vaguely described as a period when cases and deaths “at low absolute rates per capita,” when health system capacity is “very strong,” when testing is widespread, and when the region has implemented contact tracing and containment protocols. Last week, Whitmer indicated that the state was somewhere around stage three; however, the reopening of businesses Up North and in the U.P. suggests that some areas are moving more quickly through the stages than initially expected. As cases in the Detroit area continue to decline, Mayor Mike Duggan indicated he believed it was time to allow some Detroit businesses to reopen — with restaurants to follow later.
In the meantime, Brush Street Bar & Grille is now advertising a tentative June 1 start date for dining indoors on its website. Until the order is given, Gardner plans to make do with takeout service. The restaurant reopens from noon to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 20 with carryout New Orleans-style po’boys, gumbo, and catfish beignets.
Eater is tracking the impact of the novel coronavirus on the local food industry. Have a story to share? Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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