The Flaming Grill Cafe nearly started from scratch when they reopened their dining room for the first time in two months on May 23.
This Stonelake neighborhood spot, best known for their exotic burgers and local craft beers, was among Elk Grove’s first restaurants to offer in-dining last week after the state public health officials allowed Sacramento County’s eateries to reopen dining rooms. However, they must follow several safety protocols to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
“It’s been hard, you know,” said Maria Silva, whose family owns The Flaming Grill. “We’re hoping to survive this, God willing, we will.”
The Citizen interviewed several restaurant owners who had mixed reactions to the news they were being allowed to reopen their dining rooms. Some were excited to welcome diners again, while others preferred to keep their dining rooms closed until their staff was prepared.
Marie Mertz, owner of the Todo un Poco Bistro, said last week that restaurants should take “baby steps” before opening their doors again.
“We know that we need the traffic and that we need to generate income for the restaurant, but this should not be the driving force to open so abruptly,” she said.
Her restaurant is instead continuing to offer take-out orders until they’re ready to reopen their dining room.
Jamie’s Café reopened their Laguna West spot for breakfast and lunch on May 27.
“My staff and I are trained to provide a safe experience,” owner Jamie Cobian said. “We’re looking forward to seeing everyone again.”
The Boulevard Bistro decided to keep their dining room closed during the Memorial Day weekend. They started accepting reservations for the following week.
“Chef Brett (Bohlmann) can’t wait to plate your meal on porcelain again,” they announced on Facebook.
At the Flaming Grill Café, Silva and her co-workers displayed several signs at their restaurant that explained their new dining policy. They all wore face coverings when they served customers and carefully explained their restaurant’s social distancing rules to them.
Their dining room can only operate at 25% capacity, groups of customers are seated at tables six feet apart, only one person can use a restroom at a time, meals are served on disposable plates, customers cannot sit at the bar, and customers are asked to view large menus that are posted inside and at the patio.
“We encourage everybody to properly throw their stuff away,” Josh Works, the bar manager, said. “We sanitize constantly here.”
He previously spent the past two months delivering food to customers at their homes and serving orders to-go at the restaurant.
“We support the community and we love everyone who supported us,” Works said.
Masks are not required for visitors at the Flaming Grill Cafe. A few guests wore face coverings when they waited for their to-go orders.
Under new state regulations, pints of beer can be served, but only if a customer orders food.
During the week when local restaurants started reopening dining rooms, Elk Grove city officials issued an emergency order that permitted those businesses to add or expand outdoor seating without a city permit on private property. This order was aimed to help restaurants that now have significantly reduced indoor seating.
The Flaming Grill installed a few dining tables in their parking lot on their reopening day.
“You take your time, you holler at me when you’re ready,” Silva told a customer standing outside and viewing the menu.
One customer sat inside and dined on a hamburger while sitting next to two beer kegs from his Sacramento brewery, King Cong. Owner Cong Nguyen said that he reopened his brewery’s taproom last week where they also serve food.
“I’m absolutely excited,” he said about restaurants reopening. “I feel like there are all of my colleagues, and we work together and we’re supporting each other.”
Silva told the Citizen that she’s pleased that the Flaming Grill Café is becoming, “semi-normal.”
She said, “We can get semi-normal and be able to serve the community and try to dig out of the hole we’re in.”
Her restaurant’s neighbor, the Dreaming Dog Brewery began pouring beer in glasses for the first time since March. They kept their taproom closed, but they added tables and chairs in their parking lot. A barbecue business set up a tent and served food to customers – Dreaming Dog will only pour beers whenever they have a food vendor on site, as per state regulations.
During Dreaming Dog’s soft reopening day, The Taylor Chicks played music for a small crowd. The brewery staff wore face coverings and they often disinfected their sales table as well as the ballpoint pen used by customers to sign receipts.
“We’re running at about 40% of our revenue run right now, but events like this help,” co-owner Dave Brown said. “If we’re able to kick that up a bit, we hope to get to 60 or 70% - if we can do that then that will make a big difference.”
He mentioned that he expects public health officials to evaluate the status of COVID-19 cases in the population every 14 days.
“We don’t know what the next step will be at his point,” Brown said. “It’s just going to be a piece at a time and we’ll do everything we can to accommodate.”
He added that ultimately people’s lives matter more than his business.
“I would rather lose my business than to have someone die because we had to push to open,” Brown said. “My wife and I have been saying that for a couple of months – it’s not worth a dollar to lose a life.”
U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, and a few staff members visited the brewery that afternoon. They presented a proof of purchase from the barbecue business before ordering drinks and sitting at a table.
“If everyone maintains their physical distancing, and if you’re sitting outside, the virus seems to spread less effectively outside,” Bera said. “We have to learn to live with this.”
The Congressman this month voted for the HEROES Act, a $3 trillion federal relief package that’s designed to aid state and local governments during the COVID-19 situation. This bill passed through the House and it now awaits Senate approval.
“We’re going to have to figure out at the federal level how we can help (state and local governments) get through this,” Bera said.
During the two long months since the state called for all brewery taprooms to close, Dreaming Dog only sold bottles and cans of beer to-go. Co-owner Liz Brown said there’s been a constant request from many customers.
“I’ve had a lot of people ask when we are going to have our karaoke nights back,” she said, while laughing. “I don’t know when that’ll be, but that seems to be an everyday question.”