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SLO Co. restaurants re-open for dine-in service, employees face stricter hygiene practices

Posted at 9:22 AM, May 22, 2020

Many Central Coast restaurants and retail shops are beginning to welcome customers back inside for the first time in two months as local governments move into Phase 2 of the state's coronavirus re-open plan.

Louisa's Place on Higuera Street re-opened to dine-in customers Friday morning, marking the first time in over nine weeks that customers have ordered eggs and bacon from a table in the restaurant.

The special of the day on Friday was "welcome back waffles with a side of eggs your way."

In the 24 hours leading up to the re-open, Louisa's Place Owner Aubrey Pyle felt excitement with a tinge of apprehension.

"I do miss my customers, they're the lifeblood of this place and it doesn't feel the same without them in here," Pyle said.

For 40 years, customers have packed the booths at Louisa's Place.

After a 2-month hiatus, Pyle was eager to bring both customers and employees back to the historic diner.

"I'm just excited to get a little normalcy back in my life," Pyle said.

But it's not exactly like old times, as only 50 percent of customer capacity is approved under Phase 2 and guests must be seated 6 ft apart.

Pyle said only two servers and one host, who must wear masks while working, will be on shift at a time and all employees must adhere to strict new cleaning protocols.

"It is going to be nice to have a bit of a practice run where we're not super busy," Pyle said. "Everyone can learn how we're going to get through the day getting all these new things in."

The Spoon Trade in Grover Beach is taking limited reservations Friday and Saturday.

"It's not going to be a profitable experience for us" The Spoon Trade Co-owner Jacob Town said. "Unless we're doing 75 to 100 people a night, it's not going to pay the bills. We're just using it as a practice point, a startup to ease into what's next."

The Spoon Trade will be closed Sunday to give Town and his wife, Brooke, a chance to evaluate how the experience went and make necessary changes for the next time they offer dine-in service.

The Towns said they had considered checking IDs and only accepting reservations made by county residents, but ultimately decided to welcome everyone.

"We didn't want to alienate anyone," Brooke Town said.

The Towns spent the last week training employees for the return of dine-in customers, but not all of the restaurant's staff is ready to return.

"It was more not feeling comfortable coming back to work just yet," Town said. "Maybe with their household and how many people live there and people that are a little more vulnerable at home."

Employers nationwide face an uphill battle, tasked with making staff feel comfortable at work and enticing them to earn less than the unemployment benefits.

"We are having an issue with the money thing and unemployment, it is so high," Pyle said, referring to the $600 per week in unemployment that some of her employees had been receiving. "They probably won't make that, working here at half capacity, there's not a lot we can do."

Pyle and the Towns said they are thankful for their staff's perseverance and ask customers for patience.

Despite the green light to open, many other restaurants and retailers in town are not bringing customers inside. Those business owners say they need more time to prepare.

The owners of Len Collective and The Mountain Air said they did not plan to allow customers inside to shop in the near future.