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'The first big exhale in awhile.' After months of takeout, restaurants reopen for outdoor dining

Restaurateurs without outside space pin hopes on temporary street closures

Socially distant tables outside Local Union 271 on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto were full on Friday, June 5, the first day Santa Clara County restaurants were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

On the first days Santa Clara and San Mateo counties allowed restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining over the weekend, Mountain View's Castro Street, Palo Alto's University and California avenues and Menlo Park's Santa Cruz Avenue no longer felt like ghost towns, with many people enjoying their first sit-down restaurant meal in nearly three months.

Santa Clara County allowed outdoor dining to resume on Friday and San Mateo County on Saturday. Many restaurants, fighting to survive only on takeout when shelter-in-place orders were first issued in March, rushed to adapt their businesses to the new guidelines. They set socially distanced tables with bottles of hand sanitizer, implemented temperature checks for employees, required reservations and swapped printed menus for digital ones.

Sharon Lesec and Philip Stephanou were among the diners having lunch on Castro Street on Friday. They used a menu on their phones to order fish and chips, a burger and beers from St. Stephen's Green.

"It's a mood lifter," Lesec said of dining out after months of takeout and home cooking. "We planned this last week and I have been looking forward to eating at a restaurant. It's nice just to be able to enjoy the outdoors and socialization, in a safe way. I feel very comfortable."

At Town & Country Village in Palo Alto, several restaurants now have additional tables set up in parklets built in the parking spaces outside. Signage reminds customers to stay 6 feet apart and to keep their masks on unless they're eating. At Telefèric Barcelona, a waiter wearing a face shield and black nitrile gloves served tables from a safe distance. The Spanish restaurant is taking employees' temperatures before each shift and has increased sanitation of all front and back-of-house spaces.

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"It was wonderful to put food on plates, drinks in real glasses and serve our guests and friends," the owners of La Bodeguita del Medio on California Avenue posted to Instagram on Saturday. "The first big exhale in awhile." (The Cuban restaurant only had three outdoor tables capped with two diners each and reservations required.)

In downtown Palo Alto, the owners of Indian restaurant Rooh worked with the city and their landlord to build a new parklet in just two days. It allowed them to add four additional tables, where diners on Friday night used a QR code to access a digital menu on their phones. (Those who prefer a paper menu can ask for a disposable one.)

The owners of Rooh Palo Alto quickly built a parklet outside their Indian restaurant at 473 University Ave. after learning outdoor dining would be permissible in Santa Clara County starting on June 5. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

"With the new dining regulations, dining is going to look a little different," said a masked Rooh waiter, noting that silverware would only come out when dishes were served instead of sitting on tables.

At Salvaje, a downtown Palo Alto wine bar, owner Kasim Syed texted a photo of the limited menu to customers and asked whether they preferred him to wear gloves. He was sanitizing the bathroom every half hour and cleaning tables and chairs between customers. He posted coronavirus posters from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at each entrance to the wine bar's two outdoor patios.

"It's all going to be a learning experience as we're doing it right now," Syed said.

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Over the weekend, some restaurants, including Left Bank Brasserie in Menlo Park, started by allowing customers to eat takeout at outdoor tables before adding full table service. Menlo Park's Flea St. Cafe is reopening this Wednesday in a hybrid model, asking customers to continue to place and pay for their orders online in advance with the option of reserving an outdoor table. Staff will bring them their dinner in a bag, including compostable plates and flatware, which they can unpack themselves and eat outside. Afterwards, the restaurant will compost everything and sanitize the table for the next diners.

"We are starting very conservatively in order to create a safe and respectful minimal touch dining experience," Flea St. owner Jesse Cool said. "We feel protective of our staff and guests."

Customers eating outside Bistro Vida in downtown Menlo Park on Saturday June 6, the first day San Mateo County restaurants were allowed to reopen for outdoor dining. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

Other owners are moving cautiously on outdoor dining, taking the time to set up all the necessary procedures and train staff. Rocco Scordella is aiming to reopen the patio of his Palo Alto restaurant, Vina Enoteca, this week. He's requiring all of his employees to get tested on a weekly basis.

"Once they all receive their results I will feel better on opening again," he said.

Eateries that were lucky to already have outdoor dining areas or parklets were able to open more quickly over the weekend, while others are still waiting for their cities to close main thoroughfares to traffic to give them space to serve diners outside. If city leaders don't act quickly, they worry they'll start losing takeout business to customers who choose to patronize the restaurants that have already reopened for outdoor dining.

In downtown Los Altos, restaurant owners said the city's regulations prevented them from realistically putting any tables on sidewalks over the weekend. The city instructed owners that tables should be 10 or more feet away from one another and also 10 feet from the public right-of-way or sidewalk to allow pedestrians to walk through, according to an email from Economic Development Coordinator Anthony Carnesecca.

"Our only path to survival is for outdoor space," said Vickie Breslin, owner of The Post in Los Altos. "(We) need to figure a plan out as we are dead since everyone else can serve outside or have a patio."

She and other Los Altos business owners are hoping the city temporarily closes Main and State streets to traffic, which the City Council will discuss on Tuesday. Staff are proposing the closures run from about 6 a.m. on Thursdays through about 6 a.m. on Mondays, effective as early as Thursday, June 11. (Editor's note: The Los Altos City Council decided to pilot street closures for one weekend, June 18 through June 22, and then assess whether to extend them.)

In downtown Redwood City, Anne Le Ziblatt eagerly started planning to serve diners outside her Main Street restaurant, Nam Vietnamese Brasserie. Her public relations firm sent out an announcement that Nam would reopen for outdoor dining this Tuesday, June 9, — and then Le Ziblatt learned from the city that without an existing outdoor dining permit, she couldn't actually do so. Nam Vietnamese Brasserie will continue as a takeout-only operation for the foreseeable future.

She's also waiting for the City Council to take action on a proposal to temporarily close streets and allow restaurants to use sidewalks, parking spaces and parking lots. A city task force is exploring full and partial rotating closure of streets, including Main Street between Middlefield Road and Broadway Street and parts of Broadway, on Fridays through Sundays.

According to a staff report, the city is targeting a start date of July 11 — too far off for hard-hit restaurants, Le Ziblatt said.

"It's one of those things where if you're going to take that long ... it's not going to be useful," she said. "People are hanging on by their fingernails waiting for an opportunity. A lot of people are operating just waiting for that moment."

(Editor's note: Redwood City city councilmembers this week "expressed an eagerness to launch a program as soon as possible" and will consider approval at their next meeting in late June, according to Communications Manager Jennifer Yamaguma.)

According to a staff report, the city of Palo Alto is currently planning to close California Avenue on Thursday through Sunday evenings, beginning on June 11 and lasting at least through the July 4 weekend. On University Avenue, where several restaurant owners oppose closing the street to traffic, the city is instead proposing testing a limited closure, such as only on Friday or Saturday evenings or one full weekend.

A new parklet outside Gott's Roadside at Twon & Country Village in Palo Alto allows for socially distanced picnic tables. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

The Palo Alto City Council discussed on Monday evening how to adjust regulations to allow for more outdoor dining, including temporary street closures, parklets and using sidewalks and parking lots. They backed a plan to close California Avenue as soon as this Thursday but had mixed support for doing the same on University Avenue.

The Mountain View City Council will consider this Tuesday temporarily closing Castro Street between Evelyn Avenue and Mercy Street to traffic "to provide outdoor dining space for downtown restaurants to support their economic recovery and re-enliven downtown," a staff report reads. The closure could start June 22 and run through Sept. 30. Staff are recommending a "food court-style layout" where the city would provide tables and chairs for shared use by restaurants along Castro Street as well as participating restaurants on adjacent side streets. (Editor's note: The council unanimously approved the closure, which will begin on June 22.)

Under the revised health orders from Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, restaurants must space outdoor tables 6 feet apart and limit the number of customers at a single table to no more than six individuals, all of whom must be from the same household. Restaurants can only serve alcohol with food, and bar areas must remain closed. Hand sanitizer or hand-washing stations should be made available in the outdoor dining area.

San Mateo County's health order goes into more detail. It states that customers are required to wear face coverings except when sitting at dining tables. People from different households can use lounge areas and fire pits at the same time as long as they stay 6 feet apart. Restaurants must put their host stands at the entry of the outdoor dining area "so as to prohibit patrons from unnecessarily walking through the outdoor dining area." If a restaurant allows dogs, they must be on a leash and stay at least 6 feet from customers who are not members of the same household. Parents must ensure children 12 years and younger adhere to social distancing guidelines at all times.

In an updated FAQ, the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health said people dining outdoors at restaurants must wear a face covering while waiting in line, going to or from their table, using the restroom, ordering their meal and "at other times the restaurant may require." Children 6 years old and under or anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove a face covering without assistance is exempt from this.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

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'The first big exhale in awhile.' After months of takeout, restaurants reopen for outdoor dining

Restaurateurs without outside space pin hopes on temporary street closures

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Mon, Jun 8, 2020, 9:26 am

On the first days Santa Clara and San Mateo counties allowed restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining over the weekend, Mountain View's Castro Street, Palo Alto's University and California avenues and Menlo Park's Santa Cruz Avenue no longer felt like ghost towns, with many people enjoying their first sit-down restaurant meal in nearly three months.

Santa Clara County allowed outdoor dining to resume on Friday and San Mateo County on Saturday. Many restaurants, fighting to survive only on takeout when shelter-in-place orders were first issued in March, rushed to adapt their businesses to the new guidelines. They set socially distanced tables with bottles of hand sanitizer, implemented temperature checks for employees, required reservations and swapped printed menus for digital ones.

Sharon Lesec and Philip Stephanou were among the diners having lunch on Castro Street on Friday. They used a menu on their phones to order fish and chips, a burger and beers from St. Stephen's Green.

"It's a mood lifter," Lesec said of dining out after months of takeout and home cooking. "We planned this last week and I have been looking forward to eating at a restaurant. It's nice just to be able to enjoy the outdoors and socialization, in a safe way. I feel very comfortable."

At Town & Country Village in Palo Alto, several restaurants now have additional tables set up in parklets built in the parking spaces outside. Signage reminds customers to stay 6 feet apart and to keep their masks on unless they're eating. At Telefèric Barcelona, a waiter wearing a face shield and black nitrile gloves served tables from a safe distance. The Spanish restaurant is taking employees' temperatures before each shift and has increased sanitation of all front and back-of-house spaces.

"It was wonderful to put food on plates, drinks in real glasses and serve our guests and friends," the owners of La Bodeguita del Medio on California Avenue posted to Instagram on Saturday. "The first big exhale in awhile." (The Cuban restaurant only had three outdoor tables capped with two diners each and reservations required.)

In downtown Palo Alto, the owners of Indian restaurant Rooh worked with the city and their landlord to build a new parklet in just two days. It allowed them to add four additional tables, where diners on Friday night used a QR code to access a digital menu on their phones. (Those who prefer a paper menu can ask for a disposable one.)

"With the new dining regulations, dining is going to look a little different," said a masked Rooh waiter, noting that silverware would only come out when dishes were served instead of sitting on tables.

At Salvaje, a downtown Palo Alto wine bar, owner Kasim Syed texted a photo of the limited menu to customers and asked whether they preferred him to wear gloves. He was sanitizing the bathroom every half hour and cleaning tables and chairs between customers. He posted coronavirus posters from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at each entrance to the wine bar's two outdoor patios.

"It's all going to be a learning experience as we're doing it right now," Syed said.

Over the weekend, some restaurants, including Left Bank Brasserie in Menlo Park, started by allowing customers to eat takeout at outdoor tables before adding full table service. Menlo Park's Flea St. Cafe is reopening this Wednesday in a hybrid model, asking customers to continue to place and pay for their orders online in advance with the option of reserving an outdoor table. Staff will bring them their dinner in a bag, including compostable plates and flatware, which they can unpack themselves and eat outside. Afterwards, the restaurant will compost everything and sanitize the table for the next diners.

"We are starting very conservatively in order to create a safe and respectful minimal touch dining experience," Flea St. owner Jesse Cool said. "We feel protective of our staff and guests."

Other owners are moving cautiously on outdoor dining, taking the time to set up all the necessary procedures and train staff. Rocco Scordella is aiming to reopen the patio of his Palo Alto restaurant, Vina Enoteca, this week. He's requiring all of his employees to get tested on a weekly basis.

"Once they all receive their results I will feel better on opening again," he said.

Eateries that were lucky to already have outdoor dining areas or parklets were able to open more quickly over the weekend, while others are still waiting for their cities to close main thoroughfares to traffic to give them space to serve diners outside. If city leaders don't act quickly, they worry they'll start losing takeout business to customers who choose to patronize the restaurants that have already reopened for outdoor dining.

In downtown Los Altos, restaurant owners said the city's regulations prevented them from realistically putting any tables on sidewalks over the weekend. The city instructed owners that tables should be 10 or more feet away from one another and also 10 feet from the public right-of-way or sidewalk to allow pedestrians to walk through, according to an email from Economic Development Coordinator Anthony Carnesecca.

"Our only path to survival is for outdoor space," said Vickie Breslin, owner of The Post in Los Altos. "(We) need to figure a plan out as we are dead since everyone else can serve outside or have a patio."

She and other Los Altos business owners are hoping the city temporarily closes Main and State streets to traffic, which the City Council will discuss on Tuesday. Staff are proposing the closures run from about 6 a.m. on Thursdays through about 6 a.m. on Mondays, effective as early as Thursday, June 11. (Editor's note: The Los Altos City Council decided to pilot street closures for one weekend, June 18 through June 22, and then assess whether to extend them.)

In downtown Redwood City, Anne Le Ziblatt eagerly started planning to serve diners outside her Main Street restaurant, Nam Vietnamese Brasserie. Her public relations firm sent out an announcement that Nam would reopen for outdoor dining this Tuesday, June 9, — and then Le Ziblatt learned from the city that without an existing outdoor dining permit, she couldn't actually do so. Nam Vietnamese Brasserie will continue as a takeout-only operation for the foreseeable future.

She's also waiting for the City Council to take action on a proposal to temporarily close streets and allow restaurants to use sidewalks, parking spaces and parking lots. A city task force is exploring full and partial rotating closure of streets, including Main Street between Middlefield Road and Broadway Street and parts of Broadway, on Fridays through Sundays.

According to a staff report, the city is targeting a start date of July 11 — too far off for hard-hit restaurants, Le Ziblatt said.

"It's one of those things where if you're going to take that long ... it's not going to be useful," she said. "People are hanging on by their fingernails waiting for an opportunity. A lot of people are operating just waiting for that moment."

(Editor's note: Redwood City city councilmembers this week "expressed an eagerness to launch a program as soon as possible" and will consider approval at their next meeting in late June, according to Communications Manager Jennifer Yamaguma.)

According to a staff report, the city of Palo Alto is currently planning to close California Avenue on Thursday through Sunday evenings, beginning on June 11 and lasting at least through the July 4 weekend. On University Avenue, where several restaurant owners oppose closing the street to traffic, the city is instead proposing testing a limited closure, such as only on Friday or Saturday evenings or one full weekend.

The Palo Alto City Council discussed on Monday evening how to adjust regulations to allow for more outdoor dining, including temporary street closures, parklets and using sidewalks and parking lots. They backed a plan to close California Avenue as soon as this Thursday but had mixed support for doing the same on University Avenue.

The Mountain View City Council will consider this Tuesday temporarily closing Castro Street between Evelyn Avenue and Mercy Street to traffic "to provide outdoor dining space for downtown restaurants to support their economic recovery and re-enliven downtown," a staff report reads. The closure could start June 22 and run through Sept. 30. Staff are recommending a "food court-style layout" where the city would provide tables and chairs for shared use by restaurants along Castro Street as well as participating restaurants on adjacent side streets. (Editor's note: The council unanimously approved the closure, which will begin on June 22.)

Under the revised health orders from Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, restaurants must space outdoor tables 6 feet apart and limit the number of customers at a single table to no more than six individuals, all of whom must be from the same household. Restaurants can only serve alcohol with food, and bar areas must remain closed. Hand sanitizer or hand-washing stations should be made available in the outdoor dining area.

San Mateo County's health order goes into more detail. It states that customers are required to wear face coverings except when sitting at dining tables. People from different households can use lounge areas and fire pits at the same time as long as they stay 6 feet apart. Restaurants must put their host stands at the entry of the outdoor dining area "so as to prohibit patrons from unnecessarily walking through the outdoor dining area." If a restaurant allows dogs, they must be on a leash and stay at least 6 feet from customers who are not members of the same household. Parents must ensure children 12 years and younger adhere to social distancing guidelines at all times.

In an updated FAQ, the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health said people dining outdoors at restaurants must wear a face covering while waiting in line, going to or from their table, using the restroom, ordering their meal and "at other times the restaurant may require." Children 6 years old and under or anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove a face covering without assistance is exempt from this.

Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.

Comments

Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2020 at 10:09 am
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2020 at 10:09 am
6 people like this

Are restaurants required to check ID to see if diners at the same table are all from the same address?


Aimée Bolter Campbell
Crescent Park
on Jun 8, 2020 at 11:18 am
Aimée Bolter Campbell, Crescent Park
on Jun 8, 2020 at 11:18 am
Like this comment

Check out Cafe Zoë in The Willows! Web Link


Midtown
Midtown
on Jun 8, 2020 at 11:35 am
Midtown, Midtown
on Jun 8, 2020 at 11:35 am
Like this comment

@Resident

That wouldn't be very effective - when you update your address with the DMV, they update their database but don't issue a new ID. My husband's ID still has our old address even though we've lived in Palo Alto for two years and he updated his address with the DMV when we moved.


Scott
Mayfield
on Jun 8, 2020 at 11:40 am
Scott, Mayfield
on Jun 8, 2020 at 11:40 am
13 people like this

I'm all for helping all restaurants in Palo Alto -- not just on University or California Ave.

I hope the City also has a plan for where customers and employees will park if they close off 100+ parking spaces. They need to be transparent with their plans and work with adjacent neighborhoods to minimize any negative impact on them. To not be transparent about all impact is to sow mistrust and an us-versus-them environment which is not helpful.


George
Midtown
on Jun 8, 2020 at 11:41 am
George, Midtown
on Jun 8, 2020 at 11:41 am
20 people like this

These expanded outside dining areas look great. I hope this sticks around even once COVID-19 dies out! University Ave would be great as an entire car-free mall with just a few crossroads open to connect Hamilton and Lytton. The limited parking on University itself is pretty useless, IMO.


senior citizen
Downtown North
on Jun 8, 2020 at 2:18 pm
senior citizen, Downtown North
on Jun 8, 2020 at 2:18 pm
11 people like this

Are these outdoor restaurants safe for people in higher risk groups, like senior citizens or people with medical conditions?


Proud Paly resident
Downtown North
on Jun 8, 2020 at 2:27 pm
Proud Paly resident, Downtown North
on Jun 8, 2020 at 2:27 pm
12 people like this

Close University as well as California, at least until October! Let side street restaurants have parklets. Let the restaurants take over the streets. I live just one block from University and, yes, this will worsen traffic and parking for me. GREAT. I'm all for it. Why? Because I want all of these restaurants to survive. And the retail shops that will also get help from having people come to the restaurants. I want small businesses to survive. If I have to put up with more traffic and worse parking, so be it. Those businesses--if any--that are against closing the streets are short-sighted. Restaurants can't survive on the limited (if any) outdoor seating they have. They need more more. A little bit of inconvenience is worth having a vibrant downtown--two vibrant downtowns. I don't want to live in a ghost town. Give them the streets. I'll circle the block...


Thank God for pickleball
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2020 at 5:27 pm
Thank God for pickleball, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2020 at 5:27 pm
3 people like this

Senior citizen - it is up to each person to decide whether to go out to eat or to go play pickle ball or to shop in a store or to go cheer a walk is safe for them. Our county health director wants us to think it is unsafe to go out at all. It is your decision. Is driving to the restaurant safe?


Lindsay Joye
Ventura
on Jun 8, 2020 at 5:46 pm
Lindsay Joye, Ventura
on Jun 8, 2020 at 5:46 pm
1 person likes this

We had a delightful outdoor dinner at Cascal on Castro St. and were thrilled to listen to their live music. It was a great place to celebrate our birthdays.


Want to Live :)
Menlo Park
on Jun 8, 2020 at 7:04 pm
Want to Live :), Menlo Park
on Jun 8, 2020 at 7:04 pm
9 people like this

Covid 19 is the most contagious disease we've seen in >100 years. More than 113,000 Americans have died from it. No resaurant experience or food is worth that risk to me. I'll be eating at home with peace of mind.


Dick D.
Crescent Park
on Jun 8, 2020 at 7:18 pm
Dick D., Crescent Park
on Jun 8, 2020 at 7:18 pm
14 people like this

Concerning the "Senior Citizens" remarks about doing as one wants to do . . . seems to miss the fact that what we do can effect others . . . the 6' rule is to help reduce the effects of virus on each other, just as wearing masks. This sense of "Freedom" flies on the face of communities working together. It amazes me these "Freedom to do what I want" folks forget about lots of other things to protect each other – speed limits, gun control (what little we have of it), running around naked, vehicles without mufflers, burning leaves in the street and on an. All these "limiting people's freedom" to do what they please, when and where they want to, ignors the FACT that what we do within our community effects others. Constraints on what we do reduces the possibe or probable effects on others.


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