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Restaurants slow, some still only doing to-go orders

Jeremy Jones and his young daughter, Avery, were enjoying lunch by a window in the front dining room of JK’s at Forest Grove Wednesday.

“It feels nice to be able to come in and sit down and have a meal,” he said. “I’ve eaten in the truck two weeks too long.”

It was the same day the governor announced that the number of coronavirus cases in Kentucky had surpassed 9,000 and the death toll had topped 400, but that new infections had been declining.

Jones said they weren’t apprehensive about eating out during the pandemic.

“Not at all,” he said. “I’m ready to get back to normal.”

What is normal for restaurants may look quite different for a long time to come.

Restaurants were allowed to reopen their dining rooms May 22 at one-third of their normal capacity, but only if they comply with strict state guidelines to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The rules include limiting groups to 10 or fewer people; positioning tables at least six feet apart; using disposable menus, napkins, eating utensils and condiments to the extent possible; not allowing customer self-service; and closing salad bars and children’s play areas.

Workers are required to wear masks and gloves when they are in common areas or interacting with others, and there must be hand sanitizer available for customers.

Jami Rivera, owner of JK’s, was frustrated that the state hadn’t sent out anything telling managers of eateries what they need to do.

“Restaurants have been left on their own to go and dig for information on what ways to be safe,” she said. “We’re just learning as we go.”

On Wednesday, the restaurant on Old Boonesboro Road was still using glass plates and silverware, but was disinfecting them before washing them.

Around noon, there were a few customers. Many came in wearing masks and got their food to go. Some ate outside. Others dined in.

Rivera said it was her second day of opening the dining rooms.

“We weren’t ready Friday,” she said, but many assumed they were. It was a good day for carryout, with about 75 customers getting food to go between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Tuesday, they opened the dining room, and had only four parties. By Wednesday, there were more.

Carryout has kept them in business during the health crisis.

“We’ve had our good days and our bad days, but I’ve been amazed by the support,” Rivera said. “I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to pay my rent and my electric and my employees.”

Colin and Shirley Halcomb of Campton had the dining room to themselves at Gaunce’s Cafe and Deli Tuesday afternoon.

Before the restaurants were closed, the place might have been packed for lunch.

“We’ve had standing room only before,” owner Tiffany Gaunce said, but now they’re limited to 20 people at a time and have every other table closed to comply with social distancing guidelines.

“Everything is in to-go containers … even if they’re dining in,” Gaunce said, and they had placed a couple of tables outside for those still not be comfortable dining in because of the possibility of getting the airborne virus, she said.

“It’s nice to be able to look out and see some faces,” she said.

Most fast food places on Bypass Road weren’t open yet Tuesday except for their drive-throughs, but Fazoli’s opened at the first opportunity, on Friday.

George Yates and Sasha Jones of Pikeville were returning home with their little boy, Jackson, when they decided to visit for lunch. It was their first time dining inside at a restaurant since the pandemic had closed them in March.

“He wanted spaghetti, and we wanted to get him out of the car,” the mom said. She said she was afraid of the virus, but felt that “if we use common sense, wash our hands, apply social distancing, I think we’ll be OK.”

There was only one other party, two adults and a child from Breathitt County, in the dining room at the time.

Fazoli’s manager Kristen Morgan said business had been slow the first few days.

“It’s kind of hard to tell rght now because we reopened Memorial Day weekend, but I think once we get past the holiday and people start coming in more, we’ll do about the same amount as we did” before the restaurant closed, she said.

She said the restaurant can only seat about 35 people under the social distancng guidelines, but they haven’t had to put anyone on a waiting list yet.

Morgan said she had enjoyed being able to see customers inside again. It felt almost like normal.

Wildcat Willy’s, a farm-to-table restaurant and moonshine distillery, chose not to have indoor dining on Memorial Day, but there was a large crowd behind the building. Some were eating and drinking beer at outdoor tables with umbrellas for shade, and a group of young men were having a cornhole tournament.

“We’re so lucky that we put in this garden, because we’re always seating people outside,” owner Laura Freeman said. “We’re only seating out here,” because the inside was close quarters. “We’ve kind of organized the inside to be a farm grocery store. The farm-to-table thing is big. Everything is coming up farm.”

“This is the biggest crowd we’ve had,” Freeman said. “Thursday and Friday were about break-even.”

Melisha Cartwright was having lunch with her little girl and a friend and said she felt “totally safe.”

“This place is a little bit smaller, so I guess it could be a little iffy” indoors, but “being outside in the air, we’re good,” she said.

“It’s good to have that social interaction” instead of being in the house, she said. “We couldn’t wait to get out of there.”

Information about Kentucky’s Healthy at Work guidelines for restaurants and other businesses is available at govstatus.egov.com/ky-healthy-at-work.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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