Little by little, Hall County restaurants are beginning to breathe again.
The Gainesville square, which was a desolate space during the beginning of the pandemic, is now buzzing with customers eating meals both indoors and outside.
Bill and Carol Kruskamp of Hall enjoyed a morning beverage outside of Inman Perk Coffee on Friday. The two said they felt comfortable with the small step back to normalcy, but still plan to wear their masks when entering public buildings.
“I think the whole thing is to be safe,” Bill Kruskamp said. “We’re kind of ready to be a little more out there. We’re not going to be silly though.”
Lauren Waycaster, the manager of Inman Perk Coffee, said the cafe opened its dining space three weeks ago, which has helped double business.
“It’s nice to be back in the swing of things and be semi-normal,” Waycaster said. “It’s just nice to see all the familiar faces again.”
Other downtown Gainesville food spots that have reopened for dine-in include Avocados Restaurant, ChopBlock Food & Spirits, Diletto Bakery, Luna’s Restaurant, Mule Camp Tavern, Recess Southern Gastro-Pub, Scott’s Downtown, Sweet Magnolia’s Cafe and Bakery, The Collegiate Grill, The Inked Pig and YellowFin.
Avocados was one of the first businesses in the square to reopen for dine-in services around a month ago.
David Camalier, general manager of Avocados, said he is ready for the state to lift seating capacity restrictions. All of the restaurant’s tables are spaced at least 6 feet apart, and only 20 customers can dine at once.
Camalier said social distancing is “perpetuating negative behavior” in the area.
“I’m out and about in the community again, and consistently I see people having conflict of being this (less than 6 feet) close. It needs to stop.”
ChopBlock Food & Spirits reopened its doors on Thursday after remaining closed without pickup services for around two months. Todd Heflin, the restaurant’s manager, said he was thrilled to see familiar customers flood back in.
“People were just so kind, so nice,” he said. “Everybody was forgiving if things were a touch slow.”
In addition to shifting gears to follow safe social distancing practices, restaurants have encountered another obstacle — meat price increases and supply shortages.
Christos Nicolaou, co-owner of Alpha Gyro Grill, said the price of beef has more than doubled recently, and he has had trouble finding enough Greek yogurt to use in his tzatziki sauce.
Nicolaou said the restaurant isn’t quite ready to reopen for dine-in, but he is satisfied with the amount of customers ordering for pickup, delivery and catering.
“It’s picking up every day,” he said. “We are pleased with that because we limited our menu a little bit.”
Camalier said he has also witnessed a severe increase in pork and beef prices as well as supply issues, and is now starting to see the same change with poultry.
“Now chicken prices are rising because you can’t get beef or pork, so there’s a higher demand,” he said.
Luckily for Camalier, and most in the food industry, he is used to adapting and changing his menu.
“For a restaurant business, it’s a normal course of action,” he said.
Paresh Patel, owner of Sweet Magnolia’s Cafe and Bakery, said he reopened his restaurant for dine-in two weeks ago. Before then, he said the business was only earning 15% of its normal sales. Now it has increased to 40%.
Unfortunately, Patel said customers are still fearful to sit inside and eat. Each day he said around 15-20 people dine inside the cafe.
“It feels so good to be open again,” Patel said. “Support local businesses.”
Hannah and Sarah Akins, both sisters who live in Gainesville, said they are happy to see that restaurants around the square are welcoming dine-in customers.
They recently began dining at their favorite spots, including The Collegiate Grill.
“I feel like as long as everyone is staying their distance, it’s OK,” Hannah Akins said. “Eventually, it’s going to happen anyway. We’re just delaying the inevitable.”