Over 120 Atlanta- and Georgia-based restaurants signed a statement of solidarity this week not to reopen for dine-in service due to COVID-19 health and safety concerns. Dubbed #GAHospitalityTogether, the group of restaurateurs and chefs pledged their intent to keep dining rooms closed in order to “safeguard” their employees and the public.
The statement is signed by a few of Atlanta’s largest restaurant groups and most notable chefs, including Ford Fry, Steven Satterfield, Anne Quatrano, Ryan Pernice, DeeDee Niyomkul, and Fred Castellucci. James Beard award-winning chef Mashama Bailey of the Grey in Savannah, Georgia, also signed the statement.
Atlanta restaurant owners were quick to react to the controversial news last week that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp would allow close-contact businesses like hair and nail salons to reopen and restaurants to resume dine-in service. Most owners cite the health and safety of employees and patrons as the biggest factor for holding off on reopening for dine-in service, along with the need for adequate time to put the governor’s new list of 39 required guidelines into practice. Restaurants are permitted to reopen their dining rooms as long they meet these guidelines, including allowing only ten patrons per 500 square feet in dining rooms, waiting areas, and bar areas, continually screening staff for COVID-19 symptoms, and staggering shifts.
Ryan Pernice, who owns Table & Main and Osteria Mattone in Roswell and Coalition Food and Beverage in Alpharetta, says the statement isn’t meant to be political. It simply lets the public know “we’re not ready to reopen,” he says. Pernice acknowledges that how and what defines that readiness varies by situation, and by restaurant owner.
“Whether people choose to reopen or not right now, this is an impossible situation restaurant owners have been handed to solve by the state, and restaurant employees face in deciding between their personal health and their financial health,” Pernice tells Eater. “My higher obligation is to protect my staff from diners during this pandemic. If the governor is mandating restaurant employees wear masks, then you’re acknowledging that there is a safety risk involved in dining at restaurants right now.”
Other restaurant owners, such as Pietro Gianni, chef Michael Patrick, and Stephen Peterson of Storico Fresco Alimentari e Ristorante and Forza Storico, are making tentative plans to reopen for dine-in service in mid-May. Gianni, Patrick, and Peterson set a target date of Monday, May 11, to reopen, but say they are “monitoring the situation daily.”
“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 told Eater last week. “We would rather keep doing what we are doing, invent more ways to stay afloat, while being socially and morally responsible.”
Several Atlanta-area restaurants, such as Bad Daddy Burgers, Waffle House, Rocky Mountain Pizza, Taka Sushi, Bantam Pub, and Moe’s Original BBQ, resumed or plan on resuming limited dine-in service this week. A few restaurants are opting to reopen the patio first, rather than the dining room.
Gov. Kemp’s latest executive order restricts local leaders, like Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, from implementing more rigid safety measures for businesses and restaurants. To get around these restrictions, cities like Brookhaven, just north of Atlanta, are finding innovative ways to remain in compliance, while also providing restaurants with safer options for dine-in service.
Brookhaven offers a 90-day Temporary Outdoor Restaurant Operations Permit. The no-cost permit allows restaurants to utilize tents, parking lots, and other outdoor spaces as potential seating areas. Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst says the impetus behind the new permit lies in recent studies indicating that sunlight and being outdoors may limit the spread of COVID-19.
Those who have signed the statement cite a variety of reasons for keeping dining rooms shuttered, while also working out how to comply with the new state-mandated guidelines and continue making money once they resume dine-in service.
“Like me, so many Georgia restaurant owners are sifting through this torrent of information coming out daily about the virus — half of it is wrong, the other half is misleading — and now we have these guidelines to consider,” Pernice says. “I just want to make sure I have more data before I make that final decision to reopen our dining rooms.”
Eater has been keeping a running list of restaurants not reopening for dine-in service since Gov. Kemp announced his plan to begin lifting restrictions on businesses. The list currently includes over 200 restaurants throughout metro Atlanta.
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.
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