While most Atlanta restaurants are still determining a timeline for reopening, Pietro Gianni, chef Michael Patrick, and Stephen Peterson of Storico Fresco Alimentari e Ristorante and Forza Storico hope to reopen the dining rooms at both restaurants on Monday, May 11. That date remains tentative, and barring a spike in COVID-19 cases in Georgia.
The move to reopen the popular Italian restaurants in Buckhead and at Westside Provisions District in mid-May comes after Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp shocked the state — and the nation — on Monday by allowing restaurants to resume dine-in service on April 27. The date comes four days before Georgia’s shelter-in-place order expires, and five days ahead of the May 1 reopening guideline set by the Trump administration.
Restaurant owners across Atlanta were quick to react to Kemp’s decision, with some calling it “irresponsible,” “unsafe,” and “unfathomable.” There’s now a growing list of restaurants choosing not to reopen dining rooms on Monday. Most owners cite the health and safety of employees and patrons as the biggest factor for holding off on the decision, along with needing more time to put stricter health and safety measures into place. This includes Gianni, Patrick, and Peterson, who have been operating the restaurants as takeout-only joints and retail markets since March.
May 11 is still just a target date for the partners, who have been discussing business during the pandemic and how to best reopen safely for dine-in service with 70 other Atlanta restaurant owners daily, via email.
The trio says they struggled with what to do following Gov. Kemp’s decision to allow restaurants to reopen on Monday, but ultimately feel it’s still unsafe to do so without further testing, better contact tracing, and more data showing a true decrease in COVID-19 cases in the state. They’re fully aware that every day the dining rooms remain closed, the businesses and their employees are losing money.
Out of 94 people between the two restaurants, 57 employees remain on staff in some capacity. They plan on rehiring nearly everyone back when the dining rooms reopen, especially if funding comes through from the Payroll Protection Program (PPP).
“We have already struggled hard to adapt our business model every day, reopening now with the high likelihood of a second virus wave would be devastating for us,” Gianni tells Eater Atlanta. “We would rather keep doing what we are doing, invent more ways to stay afloat, while being socially and morally responsible.”
Reopening the dining room during an ongoing pandemic comes with a new set of challenges, including how to ensure their servers are protected, while also keeping diners safe. Gianni says they need “better guidelines” from the governor and from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to feel more comfortable about reopening for dine-in service.
Last week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee outlined his state’s COVID-19 recovery plan. The phased approach includes ramping up testing and contact tracing first, followed by reopening residential construction, elective surgeries, and outdoor recreation businesses in the first phase. California governor Gavin Newsom has yet to provide an end date for that state’s stay-at-home order, but provided a glimpse into what restaurant dining rooms could resemble once reopened. Half-full dining rooms to continue promoting social distancing, temperature checks upon entering for staff and patrons, and disposable menus are likely to be commonplace. All restaurant workers will be required to wear masks and gloves.
For Gianni, Patrick, and Peterson, social distancing measures like spacing out tables and bar seating and using the patios for outdoor seating as much as possible, and requiring their employees to wear masks and gloves are obvious protocols. Sanitation in the kitchen and in the dining rooms will increase exponentially. The partners are also working out how to stagger the number of people dining in the restaurants at any given time. The new takeout business will fill in the money gaps not coming in from tables that are no longer present in the dining rooms due to social distancing.
In other words, running a restaurant during (and even after) the pandemic means owners and their staffs must be at the ready to pivot at a moment’s notice if certain healthy and safety measures aren’t working properly or a new guideline is required.
“We will adapt each restaurant to its single characteristics,” Gianni says of their future plans for the dining rooms. “However, nothing is set in stone, so we will be monitoring the situation daily as it evolves.”
Stay home if sick. Check the Georgia Department of Public Health website for guidance and twice-daily updates on the latest number of reported COVID-19 cases.