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‘We need to open to survive’ — restaurants reopening (or not) in Hall as state eases up some rules
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A woman leaves Longstreet Cafe Monday, April 27, 2020, with a carryout order. The Gainesville cafeteria restaurant is still open for dine in service as Georgia moves into the second phase of Gov. Brian Kemp’s reopening plan. - photo by Scott Rogers

The smell of food and sound of lively chatter is starting to pour back into Hall County as restaurants reopen their doors.

From longtimers like Longstreet to restaurants that opened just a few weeks before the curtain came down, Gov. Brian Kemp’s Monday, April 27, authorization of dine-in for businesses has provided what some owners see as a lifeline amid the pandemic’s heavy financial blow.

Jim Wilson, partner of Diesel Tap House in Buford, received a rude awakening when the shelter-in-place order went into effect only eight weeks after his restaurant opened.

“We were booming and hitting our 200 (capacity) marker,” Wilson said. “We were excited, and things were looking great.”

Luckily, before the pandemic hit Georgia, Diesel Tap House had gained a loyal customer base. Because of these “regulars,” Wilson said the restaurant was able to continue running through to-go orders over the past month.

With dine-in services now permitted by the state, the restaurant reopened on Monday and brought back four of its 22 employees. 

“Everybody is really excited as far as staff goes,” said Alecia Flahiff, manager of Diesel Tap House.

To abide by the state’s dine-in guidelines, the restaurant is cutting down its 236-person capacity to 65, spacing out tables by 6 feet, requiring all of its staff to wear masks and regularly sanitizing seats, menu, tables and other items that have been touched by people.

“We really went out of our way to make sure that we exceeded the requirements going forward,” Wilson said.

David Camalier, general manager of Avocados Restaurant, said he is well aware of those opposed to reopening dining spaces, but to-go and curbside orders “are not paying the bills.”

“We need to open to survive,” he said. 

Avocados, located in downtown Gainesville, reopened on Monday for lunch. What may seem like a major shift to most businesses with the new dine-in protocols, didn’t phase Camalier.

“A solid four to five weeks before the shelter-in-place, we started looking at CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines,” he said. “The only difference (for us) now is wearing masks and gloves.”

All of the restaurant’s tables are spaced at least 6 feet apart, and only 20 customers can dine at once. Once person is done with a menu, a staff member will toss it out. 

Camalier urges restaurants who do reopen this week to follow the government’s guidelines closely. 

“Do it right,” he said. 

Like Avocados and Diesel Tap House, Little Italy Pizzeria in Oakwood fired up its ovens on Monday.

Condellia Goetchius, the restaurant’s manager, said all of the pizzeria’s employees now wear masks and gloves, and they make sure to spray every table and chair with a sanitizing solution between visits. She said the business is following state regulations and has decreased its capacity to 25 customers. 

“We are very happy to open,” Goetchius said. ‘We want to be able to serve our community, especially the ones who want us to serve them. It’s a really big change for us, but we’re willing to make that change to be here for our community.”

Antebellum, a fine-dining establishment in downtown Flowery Branch, has announced its reopening for Tuesday, April 28 evening. 

Nick and Alison St. Clair, Antebellum’s owners, wrote in a Facebook post that the restaurant’s staff will strictly follow state health guidelines, and do everything in their power to ensure a safe dining experience. 

“If you don’t feel comfortable dining with us, we hope you will take advantage of our separate take out menu with curbside pickup,” they said in a post. “Please understand that this is a very difficult decision for us, as there is no right or wrong answer. We are eager to serve our community again in a safe, clean environment.”

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Antebellum in Flowery Branch. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Bobby Peck, general manager of Longstreet Cafe in Gainesville, said the establishment isn’t ready to fully open its dining spaces but is taking baby steps.

The restaurant’s staff will continue offering to-go plates for those who visit the buffet or call in to the restaurant. Longstreet isn’t encouraging customers to dine in, but Peck said those who want to sit down for a quick bite can. 

“If someone wants to sit down, we’re letting them,” he said. “We’re not pushing it. We won’t be going full-fledged. We want to make sure to do our best to keep everybody safe.”

Recess Southern Gastro-Pub and YellowFin, which are both owned by Christopher Richardson, will not reopen this week. 

Richardson said he made this decision for a couple of reasons, including his desire to keep his customers and staff safe and to prepare his restaurants for reopening.

“When we do reopen, we’ll modify the menu and make it smaller,” he said. “We’ll promote items that do travel well.”

If all goes as planned, Richardson said he hopes to reopen his restaurants 16-17 days from Monday. 

“I’ve been here 10 years, and I got here during the recession,” he said. “This is by far one of the biggest challenges I’ve had in 17 years of owning and running six restaurants. We’re going to come out of it.”

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The Longstreet Cafe has steady lunchtime traffic at the drive-thru Monday, April 27, 2020, but their dining room is back open for service as Georgia moves into the second phase of Gov. Brian Kemp’s reopening plan. - photo by Scott Rogers
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