The Business of Feeding People

Restaurant owners plan, debate over reopening with yellow level indoor dining restrictions

Restaurants have been some of the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic. Indoor dining in Santa Fe County hasn't been allowed since Nov. 13, so restaurants have adapted—Cowgirl BBQ closed temporarily, while others have continued to offer takeout, delivery and patio seating with propane heaters.

And all have been eagerly waiting for the option to offer indoor seating to return.

Today is that day. But not everyone is jumping back in.

Santa Fe County reached the public health requirements to move from red to yellow under the state public health red-to-green framework. The yellow designation allows indoor dining with a 25% maximum capacity and 75% maximum capacity for outdoor dining. Any establishment serving alcohol must close by 10 pm.

Harry Shapiro, owner of Harry's Roadhouse (96 B Old Las Vegas Highway), tells SFR he is "really excited" the test positivity rate hit a low enough mark this week to reopen indoors. He has used some of the lockdown time to upgrade the restaurant even as the kitchen stayed open for take-out.

"We're actually having a new floor installed in the front room today and tomorrow, so we will open up either Friday or Saturday and we'll have three or four tables in each room," Shapiro says. (Harry's delicious fried catfish, grits and collard greens will be back on the menu soon.)

Santa Fe hitting yellow is an opportunity for Shapiro to bring in more front- and back-of-house employees, though he says he won't "twist anyone's arm" to return to work if they're not comfortable.

"We're in the business of feeding people and making good food and hopefully spreading good will," Shapiro says, noting July will be the restaurant's 29th anniversary. "[The lockdown] has been a challenge for everyone."

Jeffrey Kaplan, chef and co-owner of Rowley Farmhouse Ales (1405 Maclovia St.), does not plan to open the restaurant to indoor diners for another week and a half. He's waiting on an order of plexiglass sheeting in order to completely enclose the patio so it's easier to keep warm and make sure patrons are comfortable in winter temperatures.

Kaplan also wants to wait to open indoor dining in order to watch the COVID-19 case numbers and track a potential sudden rise that might drag Santa Fe back into the red designation, which does not allow indoor dining. The restaurant will continue patio seating and a takeout menu until it reopens indoors.

"The color coding won't change in that time period but we can get an idea of how things are going and gauge [case numbers]," Kaplan says. "One of those advantages of being smaller is that it's easier for us to adapt."

Jennifer Day, who owns multiple restaurants including Lucky Goat (500 Sandoval St.), Trattoria A Mano (227 Galisteo St) and Bouche Bistro (451 W Alameda St.), says she has no intention of opening her restaurants until maybe the summer. The establishments have been closed since the first lockdown orders in March.

However, Day tells SFR the long-shuttered Bobcat Bite (420 Old Las Vegas Highway) will be the first restaurant of hers that will open, likely in late April.

"We closed everything in March because we have small restaurants…and they're fine dining," Day says. "It didn't make sense to be open because who wants to take fine dining home? A few people do, but it doesn't make economic sense. So we chose not to reopen those until 2021."  

Josh Gerwin, Dr. Field Goods' Kitchen (2860 Cerrillos Rd) owner and chef, also plans to wait and see what happens before actively promoting indoor seating again. He has offered take-out throughout the pandemic.

"I'm not gonna order a bunch of beer and go to great lengths to get ready for this weekend," Gerwin tells SFR. "I want to see what's gonna happen…For my restaurant specifically, I have 41 seats; 25% occupancy means eight people, so it doesn't make much difference…If people want to come in and sit down we'll accommodate them."

Other changes that come with yellow level status:

  • Essential retail spaces: Move from 25% to 33% of maximum capacity
  • Food and drink establishments: Allows indoor dining where it was not allowed before, with a 25% of maximum capacity for indoor dining and 75% of maximum capacity for outdoors dining (which was 25% under red); any establishment serving alcohol must close by 10 pm each night
  • Close-contact businesses: 25% of maximum capacity or 20 customers (it was 10 before) at one time, whichever is smaller
  • All other businesses: 25% of maximum capacity or 125 customers (it was 75) at one time, whichever is smaller
  • Houses of worship: May hold religious services, indoors or outdoors, or provide services through audiovisual means, but may not exceed 33% (was 25%) of the maximum capacity of any enclosed space on the premises
  • Places of lodging: 60% of maximum occupancy (was 40%) for those that have completed NM Safe Certified training; 25% of maximum occupancy for all others; five guests maximum for vacation rentals
  • Mass gatherings limit: 10 persons, 80 vehicles (was five people and 40 vehicles previously)
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