Permitted to welcome customers inside for the first time since March 17, dinner venues lining Greenville’s Main Street propped open doors and windows on Monday to let in a few diners and some fresh air.
At least half of the restaurants on the main stretch were open, benefitting from a police blockade at the intersections of W. McBee Avenue and E. Washington Street.
“We finally opened over the weekend for outdoor dining and then last night for limited indoor dining,” Carl Sobocinski, founder and president of Table 301 restaurant group, said in an email, adding that it may still be difficult to fill seats on weeknights with theaters, festivals and arenas shut down for the time being. “We are grateful to be back open and have our entire team on board to work hard and persevere until things turn around, which will be many months if not years.”
Aside from shadowy stores, signs requesting symptomatic customers to stay home, as well as a few masks – mostly sported by wait staff or men bundled up on park benches – downtown Greenville appeared to be slowly swinging back to normalcy by sunset Monday.
Customers queued up for dinner at Jamaica Mi Irie and Carolina Ale House, while patio seats were filled with families enjoying the crisp weather at Cantinflas, Sassafras Southern Bistro, Pomegranate on Main and Table 301's Nose Dive, Passerelle Bistro and Soby’s New South Cuisine, which also hosted a few diners at widely-spaced tables inside. Signs on Sushi Murasaki and Tupelo Honey Café promised a reopening this week. Larkin’s Grill Marks remained dark and empty along with Rick Erwin's West End Grille, which held only crisp white tablecloths and place settings seen through the window. Two servers stood at Halls Chophouse bar for takeout orders and wait until Thursday to reopen indoor dining.
Still, behind the scenes, restaurant owners, grateful for the chance to reopen dining rooms, are taking special precautions.
“Larkin’s is following the SCRLA guidelines on the phases,” said Kristina Murphy, vice president of Larkin’s Restaurants. “We set up our dining room with the same 50% seating that we did in the beginning on all of our patios. We’re still keeping with the procedures in place with the gloves and masks, sanitizing the tables.” No condiments are left out and tables are not pre-set, she said.
Larkin’s closed their venues Monday night for what Vice President Kristina Murphy calls a “fogging” or round of commercial disinfectant on all surfaces and to “give the staff a break” before starting up again Tuesday night. Murphy said that they have been keeping busy despite shuttered dining rooms.
“Over the weekend, it was incredible, especially for Limoncello … we’ve just been really passionate about this outdoor space and just a lot of people didn’t know about it,” Murphy said, adding that 75% of the reservations made were first timers according to Open Table data.
Table 301 waited until verifying staff were trained and had enough personal protective equipment to cycle through a shift before opening outdoor dining this past weekend.
“The reservations and turnout was very strong and those guests that did venture out were very thankful to be out and to see our staff in facial coverings, removing items from tables in gloves, and taking extra time and steps in cleaning tables, chairs and any touch points, Sobocinski said in the email. “We expect business to be steady but not great during the weekdays and with increased traffic over the weekends.”
On Monday, Gov. Henry McMaster also rolled back restrictions on gyms, barber shops, salons, tattoo parlors and pools starting May 18.
“With our increased capacity for testing the people of our state, it is time to responsibly and gradually get these small businesses back up and running,” McMaster said in a release. “We have an opportunity to set an example for the rest of the world by reinvigorating our economy while staying safe, but we can only do that if South Carolinians continue to follow the advice and recommendations of our public health experts.”
These formerly “nonessential” businesses will be expected to enact general sanitation and social distancing guidelines (.pdf). If possible, employees are expected to stay six feet apart or wear a cloth mask, while equipment in use by multiple people should be disinfected or sharing should be avoided altogether.
Employers working in the service industry or in close contact with customers are suggested by the guidelines to install physical barriers like sneeze guards or workstation barriers, consider signage offering social distancing guidance and conduct a personal protective equipment hazard assessment to determine what PPE will be needed by employees.
According to the guidelines, all customers should be screened by an employee in personal protective equipment before entry for masks, fevers and a screening form in accordance with determined occupant-to-square[-footage requirements. Hand sanitizer and tissues should be made available to clients.
“Juggling the need for our economy to be kick started and folks who are suffering from lack of revenue, to get them back on their feet with the right amount of care and concern for patrons and employees,” Lou Kennedy, CEO and president of Nephron Pharmaceuticals and member of AccelerateSC’s response team, said when asked about some of the greatest challenges AccelerateSC has faced over the past few weeks.
On Friday, May 8, she said that safely reopening public pools had become the latest topic of note for her group, who helped drive the new pool guidelines through takeaways from Center for Disease Control and YMCA protocols, including alternating lanes and occupancy limits. She said that chemical regulation in pools could also help create an added control for mitigating infection.
“It is imperative that we craft the right guidelines and get people to do some of the things to get back to normal,” Kennedy said. “It’s not even just about revenue; it’s about quality of life.”