Gov. Brian Kemp’s April 20 announcement that he will allow some businesses to soon reopen from coronavirus pandemic shutdowns is being met with early concern from some local restaurants whose owners say the safety and financial risks need more clarity.
A gaming restaurant fears it could be a “really dangerous gamble.” A Dunwoody burger joint’s owner says he doesn’t feel safe enough to reopen. One restaurateur says he’s more likely to keep a temporary food pantry running in his space for now than reopen it.
Kemp said that he will allow certain businesses, including gyms, salons and bowling alleys, to reopen on April 24, followed by movie theaters and restaurant dining rooms on April 27. Social distancing, cleaning and other restrictions would be required in such businesses, Kemp said, but did not have immediate details on the restaurant rules.
Battle & Brew, a gaming restaurant in Sandy Springs, and NFA Burger, a new restaurant in Dunwoody, are surely eager to get back in normal business while they eke through the pandemic on takeout service. So is Jason Sheetz, owner of the Sandy Springs restaurants Hammocks Trading Company and Under the Cork Tree as well as the Woodstock steakhouse Prime 120.
But all are skeptical about Kemp’s timetable and lack of details.
Battle & Brew co-owner Soel Tran said management is still discussing the reopening possibility internally, but expressed safety and financial concerns.
“While we would love to reopen fully to the public and hang out with all of our geek and gaming friends again, we have serious reservations on the feasibility/safety of the restrictions being lifted so soon,” said Tran in an email.
And social distancing rules don’t fit with the gaming-oriented business model, meaning Battle & Brew could be in a “death limbo spot” if it reopened with full expenses but only a limited ability to make money.
“It feels like a really dangerous gamble right now for people and businesses alike,” Tran said.
NFA Burger owner Billy Kramer said he isn’t changing his pandemic mode of operations “until I feel it is safe for me, my family and staff.
“I just got off the phone with a doctor who has spent the last month on the front lines and asked him the following question: ‘Will you take your family out for dinner next week?’ His answer was an emphatic no,” Kramer added.
“If a business or restaurant wants to reopen or expand their current operations, I have nothing against them and hope for the best,” said Kramer. “However, my family and I won’t be participating.”
Sheetz says he closed his Sandy Springs restaurants on March 14 for safety reasons and isn’t sure how to rethink that plan before Kemp issues specific rules.
“We certainly aren’t going to barrel forward in trying to have all guns blazing by that time because, you know, we just won’t be ready,” Sheetz said in a phone interview. “…It’s the safety of the employees and the guests. … We want to make sure that everyone is protected from everybody. And those rules are just very unclear. They haven’t been stated.”
“Are we going to fill up the dining room? Absolutely not,” he added. “Are there a few people who are going to want to come out and get out, yes. Is it the smart thing to do? I don’t know.”
Even if safety was worked out, Sheetz said, the finances of running a restaurant still have to work. He noted that dining-in businesses have a wide range of models, from fast food to high-end, and require certain volumes of customers to pay the bills. Pandemic rules could affect that and take long planning from restaurant owners.
The sudden prevalence of takeout and delivery is a new part of the financial equation. “I know some restaurants that have done real well with takeout. I know others who think it’s a waste of time,” he said.
Sheetz said that, ironically, he and his partners intended to reopen Hammocks for takeout service as soon as this weekend after weeks of planning how to reconfigure the business. “Now we’re pumping the brakes on that, going, ‘Hold on,’” he said.
Sheetz’s other Sandy Springs restaurant, Under the Cork Tree, has been entirely converted into the temporary Solidarity Food Pantry, especially to serve restaurant workers who lost their jobs in the shutdowns. Sheetz said that is the last business he would plan to reopen.
“It’s almost more important for us to kind of finish the good work that the food pantry’s doing before we replace it with a business,” he said. “…A week or two’s not going to make the difference to us at this point. A week or two keeping the food pantry open will make a big difference to a lot of people.”
While expressing concern with the lack of detail in Kemp’s announcement, Sheetz sounded a note of hope about figuring a way out of the shutdowns.
“I think it’s as controversial a topic as exists. It’s beyond Republican and Democrat,” he said. “It’s just, do you open or do you not open? Is it safety or is it a business? Is it the economy or is it health? And it’s both. It’s everything. And just because we don’t have the answer right now doesn’t mean we won’t figure it out.”