After months of lockdown, diners have begun to return to some of the island’s eateries and hotspots, now opened to 50% capacity for service indoors in accordance with guidance issued by the state as Phase 2 of Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to reopen Washington unrolls.
Following King County’s move to Phase 2 last week, businesses seeking to reopen must follow a series of guidelines laid out by the state Department of Health. On Vashon, the culinary scene is responding in different ways.
Many establishments on the island have gotten by over the last three months offering takeout and delivery, but even with restrictions loosened only a handful of restaurants in town have welcomed back patrons for dine-in service. Those that have are strongly encouraged to require customers to wear masks anytime they are not seated, and they must maintain a physical distance of at least six feet between tables.
Not everyone is comfortable yet with the prospect of reopening. Earlier this month, over at The Ruby Brink, owners Lauren Garaventa, Rustle Beihn and Jake Heil sent out a notice that despite the allowances for indoor dining service they would continue to offer takeout exclusively, writing “we need to decide for ourselves when it is sensible to partially or fully open our indoor seating as our national and global situation unfolds.” Several of the island’s wineries are trying a combination of approaches, providing limited outdoor seating while asking patrons to make reservations to enter tasting rooms. In an email, Lauren Cherry of Dragon’s Head Cider said they are continuing to offer bottles to go every day from noon to 5 p.m.
Bar seating is prohibited in Phase 2. At the Community Pub in Vashon Village, most people prefer the outside anyway, co-owner Cliff Goodman said. The pub’s patio space can accommodate up to 40 people. Owner Baynody Méndez Jiménez said last weekend was busy enough that he had to turn some away, though there are a couple of tables inside where every area is sanitized thoroughly.
Up the street, at The Hardware Store Restaurant, all of the seats at the bar were gone, but small parties sat in the booths and couples walked through the door to get a table — no more than five guests are allowed to sit together per the state’s guidelines.
While there was a buzz of activity and chatter inside, manager Adam Chumas said that while Father’s Day — celebrated last Sunday — has consistently been one of the restaurant’s biggest days of the year, there was half as much business this year. For now, that means the restaurant must operate with a significantly reduced staff. All servers are required to wear masks per the state’s requirements and are encouraged to take additional steps to make the environment safe for customers and themselves.
“We’re in a vulnerable and exposed place, and we’re doing the best we can to provide all of the staff the [personal protective equipment] that they need, and following all the precautions that are necessary,” Chumas said, adding that staff is regularly sanitizing tables, chair backs and commonly touched surfaces. Hand sanitizer is available for guests to use at multiple stations in the restaurant.
During the closure, new flooring was laid inside, and the walls were given a fresh coat of paint. Other behind-the-scenes projects included some plumbing and electrical work and a much-needed renovation of the kitchen.
“We did our best to preserve the look and feel of The Hardware Store while making it fresh,” Chumas said.
All of the preparation, he said, has led to this.
“We’re eager to be open again. We’re eager to be a part of the community. We’re eager to provide jobs for people. We’re eager to share what we’ve done with the space and we’re eager to just be what The Hardware Store is, which is a gathering place in the community,” said Chumas.
Shawna Bowden, who works at Sporty’s Restaurant a few doors down, said that traffic there has also been slower, about as busy as she said could be expected with many still wary of crowds, even given the sanitation taking place inside.
“This is all bare-bones so it’s easier to disinfect everything after every customer leaves, she said.”
There are no condiments on the tables and all menus are single-use. Bowden said all staff wear masks and encourage customers to do the same even when they’re outside on the back patio, where the matter is more of a gray area.
“Hopefully everyone is doing what they need to do to keep each other safe. You can only hope that as a small community surrounded by water that we’re all taking the precautions that we need to take,” Bowden said.
Outside Sporty’s, the scene across the street at Camp Colvos Brewing was much different, where many unmasked customers sat together and sipped beer in the shade under umbrellas. Owner Matthew Lawrence said the business was close to 50% capacity all weekend long with the majority of customers staying outdoors, as the current configuration of the floor plan inside doesn’t allow much room for seating there.
Camp Colvos is also currently operating with about half as much staffing as before the pandemic, Lawrence said, adding that they’re doing everything they can to ensure safety. That includes moving the line to the counter out of the vicinity of the outdoor beer garden and implementing a mobile hand washing station for guests to use before they enter the bathroom.
But the staff is often left reminding customers of the measures that are in place to protect them, Lawrence said.
“To the extent that you can follow the guidelines that we have listed, please do, so that we don’t have to tell you to put a mask on because that takes time, [and] it puts us in an uncomfortable situation, so follow the rules and everything will work more smoothly,” he said. “At this point, it’s just what everybody’s asking for.”