Restaurants prepare to welcome customers back inside as NC enters Phase Two of reopening

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RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – With Gov. Roy Cooper’s announcement that the state will move into phase two of reopening Friday, some restaurant owners say they welcome the chance to bring customers back inside but still want to see more reforms to help their businesses stay open in the long term.

Amber Moshakos, of LM Restaurants, says Taverna Agora in downtown Raleigh will reopen Friday at 5 p.m. when phase two begins. At that point, Gov. Cooper says restaurants will be limited to 50 percent of capacity.

“It is definitely going to be hard for us to survive, but 50 percent is much better than the zero percent we’re currently at,” she said.

When Taverna Agora reopens, she says employees will wear masks and gloves. Menus will be used only one time. Parties will be seated far enough apart to maintain social distancing. Moshakos said the restaurant is also working to get plexiglass to set up in certain parts of the restaurant as well.

“I don’t see us getting back to 100 percent capacity for a while, at least. So, that’s how we’re planning as a business and as an organization,” she said.

A few weeks ago, a group of restaurant owners in the Triangle wrote a letter to Gov. Cooper urging him not to reopen restaurants unless it’s at full capacity.

“We wholly support the CDC’s recent guidelines to reopening the economy. But to open partially—with fewer tables—would cause more harm than maintaining the status quo. Doing so would reduce the demand for curbside takeout that has kept many restaurants afloat while simultaneously decreasing the supply of seats most restaurants depend on to generate revenue,” they wrote. “The economic injury of such a policy wouldn’t stop with the bottom line of these small, independently-owned businesses. Opening with fewer seats would mean hiring back only a fraction of our employees, meaning that unemployment rates for our industry would remain high. For our local farmers and meat producers, it would mean they generate just a fraction of sales to their restaurant clientele, leading to a significant loss of income for these farmers and vendors who already live on an economic precipice.”

Elizabeth Turnbull, bar director at COPA in Durham, recently told CBS17, “Opening at partial capacity, what it does is send a mixed message to our community.”

Moshakos’s company owns restaurants in other states, including Florida, which allows the sale of mixed alcoholic drinks with to-go orders. She’s been pushing for the North Carolina legislature to allow that here as well to help businesses increase revenue during this difficult time.

The state House of Representatives included a provision to allow that in a bill that passed a few weeks ago. It did not make it into the final version of the COVID-19 relief package that Gov. Cooper signed into law earlier this month.

At the time, Republican Senate leader Phil Berger said, “I don’t believe that it’s in the best interest of coming forward with a consensus bill to deal with the federal dollars that are coming into North Carolina to include an alcohol provision of that sort.”

On Wednesday, Pat Ryan, a spokesman for Sen. Berger said, “There has not been further movement on that issue at this time.”

Moshakos is also calling on local communities to take steps such as blocking off parts of streets to allow restaurants to set up more outdoor seating.

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