Local restaurants open indoor after three-month hiatus

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Blaine businesses celebrated the end of three months of limitations on indoor dining as Whatcom County moved to Phase 2 Sunday, allowing restaurants to open at 25 percent capacity.

Miguel Ramos, owner of Paso Del Norte, said although he has less staff than before, he has been busy since indoor dining reopened.

“People are coming in like crazy,” he said.

Ramos said he was spending between $37 and $47 a day on propane to heat his outdoor patio because he could not open under the open-air guidelines due to the weather.

Despite indoor dining being open, Ramos said he is unsure if it will impact his business significantly, citing decreased traffic through town with the U.S./Canada border closed.

“We are a border town,” he said. “We need the border open.”

Restaurants can now serve groups of no more than six people, from no more than two households for dine-in services. However, bars that serve only drinks, and no food, must remain closed. This is the first time indoor dining has been allowed in the county since mid-November, when governor Jay Inslee issued state-wide shutdowns on all indoor gatherings to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

Rustic Fork owner Gary Slavin said since reopening indoors, he has doubled his seating capacity, with both his indoor and outdoor dining reservations filling up. Slavin previously said he was not able to meet the open air requirements to open inside under the open air guidelines.

The move was praised by Anthony Anton, Washington State Hospitality Association CEO, who said, in a press release, the association would begin working with the governor on a path to 50 percent capacity for businesses. 

The change coincided with Valentine’s Day, annually one the busiest days for restaurants. Restaurants have been hard hit over the last few months. Third quarter total gross income for restaurants in 2020 is down nearly a trillion dollars from previous years, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Since January, restaurants in Phase 1 had only been able to operate with indoor dining if they followed open-air guidelines. To be eligible, restaurants had to allow sufficient outside airflow through a permeable wall. This required businesses to monitor carbon dioxide levels as an airflow indicator, and keep windows and doors open.

Although the open-air guidelines were eased from the original Phase 1 plan, which prohibited indoor dining, it was not a complete solution for all business owners.

Tony’s Tavern, which did not have outdoor dining, had to close several times due to cold weather and Covid-19 restrictions, said co-owner Nicole McDonald.

McDonald said she is happy about the phase change, and the restaurant has had good business since reopening, but said the unpredictability of restrictions makes operating the restaurant difficult. She said she is in the process of setting up outside dining if the region regresses.

“Twenty-five percent [capacity] isn’t a lot, but hopefully we keep moving forward,” she said. 

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