by Phil Manzano
The coronavirus pandemic has roiled normal life, including the often-asked question, where do you want to eat?
The question is more pointed as American eating habits have shifted dramatically over the last 30 years, with households spending more on eating out than eating at home, according to a 2018 USDA study.
After four months of lockdown to stem COVID-19, King County was able to move on June 19 into Phase 2 of Governor Jay Inslee’s four-phase strategy to reopen Washington’s businesses and institutions, though numbers of COVID cases have recently spiked.
For restaurants, takeout and delivery were available during the lockdown, but Phase 2 allows for in-restaurant dining and outdoor dining limited to 50 percent capacity. (More information here.)
But as restaurant owners weigh safety, practicality and financial concerns, whether to reopen at 50 percent capacity is not an easy decision.
Tutta Bella pizzeria in Columbia City reopened a week after King County went into Phase 2 on June 19. They had been doing take-out and delivery service during the lockdown.
Brett Veling, a manager at Tutta Bella, said there was an initial rush of people eager to eat at a restaurant, so they saw good attendance when they first reopened, though it’s tapered off a little bit.
“We definitely took all of the precautions — spaced tables out 6 feet, didn’t overcrowd anything, got a ton of spray sanitizers so we could wipe down surfaces all the time, [hand] sanitizer, [and] we have masks that we give to people,” Veling said. “We thought if we did it safely, responsibly, it would be at least additional revenue. But then there’s the issue of staffing for it, so we’re still kind of figuring it out.”
Theo Martin, owner of nearby Island Soul, said they’ve been “blessed” to be able to maintain the business on takeout orders; the restaurant features takeout Caribbean food and cocktails.
Island Soul has been doing outreach as well as providing food to healthcare first responders, and that has helped their business. Recently, they did a bike-riding promotion and 200 riders, socially distanced, picked up their orders and enjoyed them at a nearby park.
But for now, opening up doesn’t “pencil out” for the restaurant, Martin said. They wouldn’t be able to open the bar, and there isn’t enough capacity in the restaurant at 50 percent.
So, how to find out what’s open in South Seattle? Some handy online tools are emerging for customers to track what’s open. Be aware that each list is not comprehensive and there may be spots where information is outdated, so always call the business first, if possible.
Intentionalist — According to their site, “Intentionalist is an online guide to intentional spending that supports small businesses and diverse local communities.”
KULA — “We’re a volunteer group of Seattle-based techies united with a passion for our city and its diverse restaurant scene. Together, we have developed KULA, a digital platform that aims to connect conscious customers with their favorite local establishments. Unlike other foodservice apps, our service is free to both restaurants and patrons.
“Kula means, ‘Eat’ in Swahili, ‘Tribe’ in Asia and ‘Gift Exchange’ in Polynesia”
Essential Seattle — A directory of businesses created by the South Seattle business, merchant and community associations, funded by the Seattle Office of Economic Development, managed by HomeSight.
Eater Seattle — Part of a national chain of city-based websites owned by Vox Media dedicated to restaurants.
Yelp is another useful resource. Search “restaurants” and 98118 or your neighborhood, like “Rainier Beach,” to target your location. You can sort returns by cuisine and/or “Recommended,” “Highest Rated,” or “Reviewed.”
Additionally, you can check out The Emerald’s Eating Well in Crisis series.
Also, check to see if your restaurant has a Facebook page — in many cases, you can message with the staff to find out about hours and availability.
Currently, Washington is requiring that people wear a mask or face-covering in public and that employees and customers wear a mask when entering or operating a business.
Tess Thomas, owner of Emma’s BBQ, which is offering takeout, reiterated the theme expressed by other restaurant owners. At 71-years-old, she’s “erring on the side of caution and also to be able to protect the customer.”
Phil Manzano is a South Seattle resident and retired journalist
Photo by Chloe Collyer