Climbing coronavirus cases force Napa County to curb restaurant, bar, tasting room reopenings
Starting Thursday, Napa restaurants go back to “al fresco” dining, forcing those wanting to remain open to rely heavily on patio space, repurposed parking lot dining areas as well as takeout and delivery options to continue making money and stay in business.
Triggered by increasing cases of the coronavirus, the latest rollback order by Napa County public health is occurring just a few days after the June 30 announcement that closures were being relaxed.
Officials say the new shutdown could last three weeks or longer, at least through July 30, depending on data showing either uptick or declining trend in COVID-19 cases.
In addition to dine-in restaurants, the rule also applies to bars, brewpubs, pubs, breweries, and tasting rooms for indoor and outdoor service, along with movie theaters and indoor entertainment venues, museums and card rooms and other businesses that will also have to close until further notice. However, restaurants and other businesses are being allowed to maintain outdoor operations.
“We’re an outdoor destination restaurant with a good following among a growing list of customers,” said Michael Dunsford, owner of the Calistoga Inn. “We have 150 seats on our patio and in the adjacent beer garden area with social distancing and tables placed at least six feet apart. Our brewery will still be the source of beer and wine for patrons. No one can sit at a bar. The brewery functions as a service bar complement to restaurant customers. We plan to continue offering lunch and dinner service on our patio seven days a week with brunch on the weekends.”
Dunsford said he understands the logic behind preventing large social gatherings including bars where people are close to each other or walking around with a beer in hand in close proximity.
“Our situation is different. We are fortunate to have two large outdoor eating facilities where everyone is seated,” Dunsford said. “We’ve been operating this way all along. We also ramped up our takeout business over the last few months in response to demand. However, if this closure lasts too long, it will be a punch in the gut. People in our industry are hurting already.”
He said the economic cost of shutting down affects businesses and workers.
“People are hoping to see another federal assistance program, but after the first round of checks were issued, these funds are drying up,” Dunsford said. “Businesses are now struggling to stay open or perhaps planning to close. Many want to know where the next financial lifeline is coming from?”
Expanding outdoor seating also includes using parking areas, as seen at the French inspired farm to table Veraison Restaurant at the Mountain View Hotel, and also at the Lovia Restaurant in Calistoga with its historic craftsman house.
At Busters Original Southern Barbecue, located at the four-way stop in Calistoga on Route 29, manager Barbara Jolly said they have several places outside for guests including seating in gazebos.
“We never had to close,” Jolly said. “After over 20 years in business, 60% of our business today is carryout — and growing. We are set up to handle growth in takeout orders. We are also seeing a rise in the number of truckers stopping by for lunch. It looks like a white vehicle fleet filling our parking lot telling people our food must be great — and it is.”
The transition to all-outdoor dining means that some restaurants have to relocate tables and chairs brought from inside.
A spokesperson for the Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena said, “We will be switching everything over to the great outdoors on Wednesday and still have ample parking for guests. Most people making reservations are requesting to be outside.”
Within the city, restaurants are taking steps to adapt to another new reality starting Thursday. Ristorante Allegria plans to expand patio seating capacity from 14 to 29 tables by July 9 making room for 60 patrons.
“We are also increasing the number of large umbrellas to provide shade during hot days and bringing in more heaters for chilly evenings both now and in anticipation of cooler fall temperatures,” said manager Jake Brownlee. “We ask everyone to please make a reservation and offer a special discount on wine with takeout orders as an incentive.”
At the Tarla Mediterranean Bar & Grill, manager Baoud Dalia said, “We are very busy and also serve discounted wine with meals. Turnout has been good for two weeks as locals started to rise to the challenge of going out for dinner again. We’ve seen widespread community support, but I don’t think this pace can be sustained long term without an influx of tourists.”