Restaurant reactions differ as COVID-19 restrictions ease in Arizona

Some restaurants in Arizona reopened for dine-in service Monday as Gov. Doug Ducey relaxed more measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

From large chains to mom and pop eateries, restaurants were allowed to host patrons for the first time in nearly two months at limited capacity and with other restrictions that include more space between tables and no parties with more than 10 people.

“Our goal is not to be busy for the first week,” said Phoenix-based restaurateur Sam Fox. “Our goal is to make sure we have our procedures in place, our employees are feeling safe. We really want to get this right the first time.”

RELATED: How one downtown Phoenix restaurant is handling its reopening amid pandemic

Fox, the founder of Fox Restaurant Concepts with a variety of the brands around Arizona and the country, said 11 stores opened Monday in four markets. Flower Child locations in Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, and Tucson are open, along with The Henry and Dough Bird. He plans to follow with several Culinary Dropout and Zinburger locations in the coming days.

Restaurants that reopen emphasize on cleaning

For owners who reopened their restaurants, the focus wasn't on the menu, but on disinfecting and keeping a clean environment.

For ZuZu, a restaurant at Hotel Valley Ho, it's all part of a new normal. Servers are wearing masks, and everything is sanitized.

"After being closed for such a period of time, I think our number one thing is guest confidence in us," said ZuZu General Manager Seth Widdles.

Staff members have had to be trained, and they are re-sanitizing every single hour. Meanwhile, disposable menus have been creating, and a floor plan that supports social distancing guidelines was created.

“Limiting dine-in to 40 guests at one time, and patio 40 guests," said Widdles. "Traditional seating is 80 in and out, so we have cut it by 50% plus."

For one restaurant, a unique approach to disinfection

Cien Agaves, located in Scottsdale, opted for a system that uses a UV light system called Shock and Shield to sanitize their restaurant for customers. It is the first restaurant in the valley to use such a method to sterilize the dining room.

"The 'shock' is the UV lights that sanitize the surfaces and the air, and what it does is it's a long-lasting layer of microscopic needles that puncture the membrane of viruses as it lands on the surface," said co-owner Bob Schulken.

Like ZuZu, Cien Agaves is also taking other steps to reassure customers it's safe to eat at their establishment.

"We’ve gotten rid of a lot of tables, so every table is six feet apart," said co-owner Roque Jimenez. "Added glass partitions, extra two feet of safety from each other."

The owners say they have reduced capacity from 250 to 170 people. While the lunch crowd was sparse on reopening day, they are expecting customers during the evenings.

"We understand the concerns, that’s why we're doing all we can to ensure the safety," said Schulken.

Customers are showing up

Some people have already shown up on Monday to have a meal out.

"I’ll be honest. It is nice to sit down, have a cocktail and someone make it for me," said one customer at ZuZu.

"It feels great, especially with the weather the way it is and seeing people, it's fantastic seeing other people out and about and also enjoying themselves. it's very refreshing," said Nick Froehlich who went to Ohso Brewery Monday.

Some customers, however, did notice changes.

"The masks, and the tables being so spread out," said Michele Silva, who said she was among the first people to walk into Cien Agaves Monday.

Some customers say they are still a little bit nervous.

"I guess I'm a little nervous with the six feet separation," said Lenore Froehlich. "I'm OK. I have a mask and I'm wearing it, but it's hard to drink beer with a mask."

"I feel with the safety precautions, I don't feel unsafe going out," said Rochelle Normandin.

Some restaurant dining rooms remain closed

As some restaurants reopen their doors, other restaurants have opted to keep their dining room closed.

The owner of Malee's Thai Bistro, located in Old Town Scottsdale, says she thought about it long and hard, but ultimately decided that her tables will remain empty, for now.

"This place is supposed to be buzzing with energy, with people eating and talking and enjoying," said Deidre Pain. "it kills me to walk into this graveyard, basically."

Malee's will continue doing takeouts for now, and Pain has been delivering free meals to healthcare workers at a Scottsdale hospital, which made her realize the dangers of COVID-19.

"If I found out that someone got infected by dining here, I would never forgive myself," said Pain.

Pain is not alone. Randy Bortin of My Slice of the Pie Pizzeria says he will also not reopen his small dining room, opting to focus on takeout and delivery for now.

"At the end of the day, it's all about safety for patrons and our staff," said Bortin.

Both Bortin and Pain received funding from the Paycheck Protection Program. They say mixed messaging and confusion have added to their decision to not resume dine-in services.

"There's been almost opinions versus facts. When you hear from the head of our government to local officials, it doesn’t all go together as you might expect," said Bortin.

"Our numbers in Arizona do not say it's time to reopen," said Pain. "Our numbers say it's time to be safe, and that's what I want: to be safe."

In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.

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