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Sonoma County restaurants stake futures on takeout as dining rooms close

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How To Reduce Your Risk

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
• Avoid touching your eyes and face
• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow
• Stay home when ill
• Get a flu shot, and it’s not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county’s 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text "COVID19" to 211211 for coronavirus information.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Restaurant dining rooms across Sonoma County went dark Wednesday as the shelter-in-place order to combat the coronavirus ushered in a new era of uncertainty for food establishments, leaving most restaurateurs wondering what to do next.

Though many have already started takeout or delivery services, which are permitted during the shutdown, it may be too little too late if diners don’t quickly make the transition to pulling up in front of their favorite restaurants rather than dwelling inside.

“We don’t know how to staff, we don’t really know what to do next,” said Liza Hinman of the Spinster Sisters in Santa Rosa, where the usually bustling dining room was empty.

“We can’t just wait around for people to order takeout all day,” she said. By Thursday, the restaurant will start pre-paid family dinners for pickup. She hopes that by ordering a set menu and paying in advance she can keep the restaurant afloat for what could be weeks or months.

Restaurants throughout the region and nation are in deep trouble as staff are furloughed, diners stay home and the already financially challenging job of keeping a restaurant open gets even harder.

Many are calling on the government to step in to help, but when that help will come — if ever — is still unknown. With thousands of restaurant staff in Sonoma County already seeking unemployment aid, the future appears even more grim.

“We have employees with families and we have to keep paying them,” said Sonjia Spector of Zoftig Restaurant. The gourmet salad and sandwich spot already had a healthy takeout and catering business prior to the coronavirus outbreak, giving them a leg up on restaurants unused to operating without a dining room. On the counter were large takeout orders headed for essential businesses still operating in Sonoma County.

“We’re set up for this, we’re ready, we’re gonna be okay,” Spector said. Zoftig already has relationships with food delivery services like GrubHub and FoodJets, so online ordering is streamlined in their business.

It is an unrivaled moment to be opening a new eatery, and that’s exactly what successful restaurateurs Mark and Terri Stark are doing. At 9 a.m. Wednesday, just hours after the shelter-in-place order went into effect, the Starks opened the doors to the their newest establishment, Grossman’s Noshery and Bar.

The couple closed all six of their other restaurants Tuesday, including the recently reopened Willi’s Wine Bar, and were forced to lay off much of their staff.

A handful of customers waited in their cars as the Jewish-style deli opened with an abbreviated menu of bagels, lox, egg salad, make-your-own pastrami sandwich kits, matzoh ball soup and chowder.

Then, minutes after opening, the power went out to the building.

“Why does the universe hate us?” said one of the employees as the first few customers stood at the counter in the dark.

Within a minute, the electricity was back, and steaming bagels came out on speed racks, with deli cases reilluminated.

“It’s all part of being in the restaurant business,” said Mark Stark, laughing and holding up two bagels to his head like dangling poppyseed earrings.

By noon, the couple were nearly sold out, a hopeful sign that eaters are venturing out.

A well-spaced queue was also forming at Goguette, a French bread bakery in Santa Rosa. Owners are keeping patrons out of the store, bringing out crusty loaves that have already been paid for online.

Others are following suit, requiring advance payments online to limit face-to-face interaction. It’s also a way to know what kind of money is coming in before prepping food that may never get eaten.

Nearly every restaurant will take a credit card over the phone, and many have online payment services set up for convenience. At this point, they’re willing to try pretty much anything to keep businesses going.

“We need to keep money moving in this economy,” said Terri McCandless, co-owner of City Garden Doughnuts. Though her bakery is closed for a few days to chart next steps, she plans to reopen for takeout.

“It’s been so emotional and exhausting to figure this out. We’re just gonna have to see what happens next,” she said.

You can reach Press Democrat dining editor Heather Irwin at 707-526-8544 or heather.irwin@pressdemocrat.com.

The Press Democrat wants to know what stories you see emerging and what you're experiencing locally during the shelter-in-place order. Reach out to us at coronavirus@pressdemocrat.com.

How To Reduce Your Risk

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
• Avoid touching your eyes and face
• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow
• Stay home when ill
• Get a flu shot, and it’s not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county’s 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text "COVID19" to 211211 for coronavirus information.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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