Receiving the news that Santa Barbara County restaurants can reopen for dine-in business was the moment Alfonso Curti had been waiting and preparing for.
Curti will open his Orcutt restaurant Trattoria Uliveto next week after the county received permission from the state to move further into the state's second stage of reopening Wednesday.
Under these guidelines, restaurants and retailers will be allowed to reopen for dine-in and in-store services at 50% capacity, and with parameters in place for social distancing, employee safety and sanitation.
"The place is ready. The tables are 6 feet apart, and it's basically at 50% capacity," Curti said. "We're excited, we're ready to go. But we want to make sure people feel comfortable to come out first."
Meeting safety guidelines
Glenn Morris, president and CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, encouraged business owners to print and display their completed forms to ensure customers know their business is safe and prepared.
"From a business perspective, they probably just want to post it pretty conspicuously. It helps your customers to feel more secure," Morris said.
After these forms are completed, health inspectors will visit businesses to ensure they are ready to reopen.
"Initially, they really want to take an education and outreach approach rather than an enforcement model. The first couple times they come by, they’re going to be reminding you what you need to do," Morris said.
Curti received a visit from a health inspector on Thursday, and was happy to talk with him about his preparations.
"I showed him around," Curti said. "He wanted to make sure we had all the protocol."
More time to prepare
While some restaurants like Tratoria Uliveto are ready for the next stage, other businesses want more time to prepare before reopening their space to customers.
At Casa Mañana Mexican Restaurant on South Broadway, assistant manager Jason Ontiveros said the business has been getting by with takeout orders but that they are not ready to open for table service yet.
He said right now, using funds to hire back the needed staff and meet all the criteria for reopening, such as screening customers before entering, is not a smart option for the restaurant.
"Taking the chance too early might not be a good idea, and it's not economically feasible at the same time," Ontiveros said.
Rex Matsunaga, owner of Zoe's Hawaiian BBQ on Santa Maria Way, has been eager to reopen to customers but expressed similar concerns about reopening too early.
"We’re not going to rush into it, even though it’s OK [to reopen]. We want to make sure everything is ready and safe, especially for my employees. They're like my family," Matsunaga said.
Keeping customers safe
While many restaurants have remained open by offering curbside service, some retail locations have only now started opening their doors.
Wendy Steller, owner of Deja Vu Antique Mall and the recently-sold Old Town Market with her husband, reopened the antique mall last week, with its sales of paint qualifying it as an essential service, she said.
Steller said she been conscientious of keeping customers and employees safe.
"I’m just sanitizing every day, pens, knobs, all that. I have blue tape on the floor so that people, when they’re waiting to check out, have 6 feet of distance," she said.
She added that hand sanitizer, gloves and masks are also used by employees and offered to customers who want them.
While Santa Maria's largest retail site has been closed since March, the Santa Maria Town Center will open again soon, according to General Manager Donna Farrell.
"We are currently preparing to reopen the mall, and businesses and [the] mall will need to complete the required certification with the county," Farrell said. "In the meantime, the businesses can continue to offer curbside pick up."
Other county businesses now allowed to reopen with parameters include child care centers, schools and certain offices, according to county officials.
Editor's note: A section of this story has been updated to clarify that Casa Mañana Mexican Restaurant is choosing not to use their funds at this time to move forward with reopening.
Laura Place covers city government for the Santa Maria Times.
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