When St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced this morning that restaurant dining rooms must close for 30 days beginning November 17, the news came as a bit of a surprise to some restaurateurs, as dining rooms in the county had been operating at 50 percent seating capacity for the past five weeks.
“I admit I didn’t see that one coming,” says Herbie’s owner Aaron Teitelbaum, who thought the mandate would be to reduce indoor capacity to 25 percent. At least under the new restrictions, outdoor patios can remain open, with socially distanced table placement. “Our two patios have meant survival for us,” he adds, but “tomorrow we will be launching the curbside menus we have unfortunately been getting ready in case something like this happened.”
Teitelbaum then added, “The frustrating part for me is that the [county’s] decision was made without a plan for restaurant workers,” he says. “I believe that additional stimulus money will show up, eventually, if places can hold on until then. I’m not as worried about the company as I am for our employees.”
Qui Tran, co-owner of Mai Lee and Nudo House, was equally frustrated. “This [mandate] set us back months,” he says. “Restaurants tend to use November and December’s sales to pay their taxes. With restrictions lasting into mid-December, basically the year is dead… I believe that we will survive, but a lot of restaurant staffers in St. Louis may not.”
Brant Baldanza’s restaurant group, OG Hospitality, owns a handful of metro area restaurants, including The Tavern Kitchen & Bar, as well as several locations of The Shack and The Corner Pub & Grill. Baldanza was texting last night until around 1 a.m. with more than a dozen restaurant owners. He echoes Tran’s and Teitelbaum’s sentiments about restrictions without resources.
“Curbside and delivery only takes care of 20 percent of the staff,” he says. “How about the other 80? It’s the other 80 I’m worried about. That needs to be addressed. ”
Baldanza suggested that patrons use to-go and delivery options as much as possible—”and buy some gift cards while you’re at it.”