Optimism, wariness as Napa County restaurants reopen for dine-in customers
For two months, Napa County retail stores and restaurant dining rooms had been empty of customers. They reopened their doors Wednesday, providing Sonoma County with a vision of its future as they sprang back to life.
“It’s a beautiful day, and a beautiful life,” said Pablo Iglesias Derderian, a Chilean expat nursing a microbrewed pint at a table on the covered patio of Downtown Joe’s, in the heart of the city of Napa. “I’m so proud to be in Napa, and I’m grateful to be alive.”
Derderian’s enthusiasm was typical of Californians longing for their local towns to return to normal as coronavirus infection rates have begun to level. But Napa’s reopening brought trepidation, too, and confusion.
While Napa Valley’s winery tasting rooms remained shuttered, state-approved revisions to local public health orders sent a jolt of energy into the heart of California’s Wine Country. Napa County became the first county in the Bay Area to welcome the public back inside restaurant dining rooms and all sorts of retail stores, not just “essential” merchants, like supermarkets.
Napa County residents learned Tuesday evening that the state had approved their expanded Stage 2 variance. The announcement gave business owners little time to prepare.
“It was mentioned for a while that restaurants can open. They didn’t say we could open today,” said Mauro Pando, owner/chef of Grace’s Table, a restaurant in downtown Napa. “I was thinking that meant they were gonna give me the date, and I would come to work that day. Then they say, ‘You’re open.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, that’s what that meant. That meant now!’”
Workers at the small restaurant at Second and Franklin streets were taking measurements and moving tables Wednesday morning in preparation for lunch hour. A few diners already were eating outside at sidewalk tables. Similar scenes were occurring at a handful of other Napa restaurants, but many had yet to take advantage of the loosened regulations.
Most of the chain businesses, for example, were doing drive-thru and takeout orders only Wednesday, as they had been for weeks. Pando attributed that to a more complex chain of command, noting that he is the sole decision-maker at Grace’s Table.
Even many of the locally owned restaurants and shops were quiet Wednesday, or limited to curbside service. Some were trying to figure out timing. La Taberna, a tapas restaurant, plans to open Friday. Angele Restaurant, at the southern end of Main Street, is shooting for Saturday.
There is much to sort out before a restaurant can reintroduce seated dining. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s revised guidelines calls for things like 6 feet of spacing between all tables, and in kitchens and walk-in freezers; thorough disinfecting of door handles, credit card readers, phones and every other common object and surface; masks for all employees, and disposable menus and napkins.
Napa restaurants seemed to be spending a lot of time on the 6-foot rule. Grace’s Table is going from 17 interior tables to six, while adding a few outside. Downtown Joe’s owner Joe Peatman said he’s at 40% of normal capacity.
Restaurants have known about Newsom’s revision for more than a week, but not all of them had the staff to get set up, and some had remained busy with takeout and delivery.