Palermo Ristorante Italiano is a local, family-owned restaurant. Family members from left: Danielle Jaffe, Giovanni Toccagino, and Oriana Toccagino. 

Elk Grove restaurant operators this month received the news that they must temporarily shut down their indoor dining operations.

That indefinite order went into effect on Nov. 13, after Sacramento County returned to the more restrictive purple level of the state’s four-tier, color-coded system for determining when counties can move forward with business reopenings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The colors of this system are purple, red, orange and yellow, and these color levels are based on the number of new COVID-19 cases and infection rates.

Elk Grove restaurants were previously allowed to offer indoor dining at 25% capacity when Sacramento County had the Red Tier 2 status.

Dr. Olivia Kasirye, the county’s public health officer, identified a recent increase in COVID-19 cases as having occurred as a result of Halloween gatherings and outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

Also forced to close indoors, with the move to the purple-tier level, are places of worship, gyms and movie theaters.

The Citizen on Nov. 16 spoke to staff at several Elk Grove restaurants to learn how they are faring as a result of this recent shutdown order.

At the Palermo Ristorante Italiano, the kitchen staff stayed busy preparing to-go orders for customers to pick up.

Giovanni Toccagino, the native of Palermo, Italy who founded the restaurant, said that he does not agree that restaurants should be forced to discontinue offering indoor dining.

“Twenty-five percent (capacity) is perfect,” he said. “We don’t need to close down. We have nine tables in the dining room and four tables at the bar.

“Who’s really going to eat outside now pretty soon with the cold? My question is ‘How long are we going to last?’ We’ll see what happens, but the cold is a problem.”

Toccagino currently uses a sidewalk in front of his restaurant for outdoor dining. The area includes tables, chairs, canopy umbrellas and heating lamps.

He also identified takeout orders as a very significant part of his business.

“We do takeout,” he said. “Thank God we do that, otherwise we would be gone a long time ago.”

Mike Abeid, owner of Fat Mike’s Pizza, said that the business shutdowns have resulted in an increase in the cost of operating his business.

“The cost of doing business is high right now,” he said. “Every now and then you’ll run out of certain products like beef and pork. You have to make some (substitutions), but you do your best and you work with your food company. It’s not as plentiful as it was.”

Abeid added that his business is currently “doing OK.”

“We’re lucky,” he said. “There are good people out here. We’re going on 29 years now. We’re getting it done, but I see a light at the end of the tunnel. (COVID-19 is) not going to last forever.”

Fat Mike’s Pizza currently offers takeout food, and outdoor dining with seating and heating lamps.

Juan Hernandez, a server at Plaza del Sol Mexican restaurant and bar, said that he is worried that this business’s indoor dining shutdown could last a long time.

“It’s hard for us,” he said. “We try (to survive). We have to-go orders and some seating outside. That’s the only way we can do it.

“We worry because we’re thinking about the whole wintertime maybe will be like that. We don’t have any timetable when we (can re)open the restaurant (indoors).”

Michelle Tran, a head server at the Sushi Q restaurant, said that she was not surprised that there was a government mandate to temporarily ban indoor dining at restaurants.

“I already saw it coming, because it’s becoming flu season now,” she said. “I honestly think it’s for the best during this time anyway. I mean, financially, it’s going to be hard on us, because the holidays are coming up. But health-wise, I think it’s for the best.”

Tran added that this eatery’s sales have decreased 10 to 20% during the pandemic.

“The restaurant itself is still doing good, because people are still ordering for takeout,” she said.

Nessa Jones, a manager at Chason’s Crab Stadium, also said she was not surprised by the discontinuation of indoor dining at restaurants.

“It’s the holiday season,” she said. “They don’t want gatherings. So, we kind of saw it coming. We were just waiting for when.”

Jones also mentioned that outdoor dining at this restaurant will be very limited due to the weather.

“We’ll be happy to get six or seven tables outside,” she said. “We still have our patio in the back that we can use,” she said. “It’s just going to be who is willing to come sit in the cold and rain.”

She added that this business is currently without outdoor heating.

“Honestly, (the heaters are) all sold out, so we’re not doing that right now,” Jones said.

Alicia Cook, supervisor at Pizza Bell’s Elk Grove Boulevard location, shared her disappointment with that restaurant’s loss of its indoor dining operations.

“It’s kind of sad to see that we can’t do any more (indoor dining),” she said. “Customers are disappointed that they can’t do it and they’re still calling and asking if we can. I mean, we do have outdoor seating, so that helps a little bit.”

Pizza Bell also offers deliveries and food to go.

Alex Brown of Leatherby’s Family Creamery recalled that the news that this business could no longer offer indoor dining was frustrating.

“It is pretty frustrating, because we had just transitioned back and finally kind of felt like we were back in the flow of (operating) inside,” he said. “We had a little more staff and could give people a little more hours. Once we kind of got back to something normal, it got taken away and we go back outside.

“We built a little front patio with some tents and we have eight tables total out there right now.”

Brown added that Leatherby’s is also offering curbside pickups and various offers, and is updating its social media accounts to stay connected with its customers.

“(Leatherby’s wants to) let people know we’re still here, we’re still open and ready to serve some ice cream,” he said.