NEW BRITAIN – Restaurant owners in the city could not have asked for a more beautiful day to open outdoor seating areas as the state starts lifting restrictions.
“It felt so nice to sit outside and get some sun while having our favorite pizza,” said Margo Sklavouris, who visited Five Churches Brewing with her family. “I think I actually got sunburnt, but it’s all good. It’s nice to see restaurants opening up again, even if it’s just outside seating.”
On the official first day of restaurants doing partial “grand re-openings” with outdoor seating only, residents and visitors alike could be seen strolling to their local spot or driving out just to be able to enjoy the fresh air while eating the food they have been craving since the COVID-19 induced shutdown in March.
Ed and Millie Koski made a 20-mile trek from Manchester to get themselves some much-needed Polish food from their favorite old jaunt, Staropolska Restaurant, in Little Poland.
“We made the trip especially because I’ve been wanting cheese blintzes like no other,” said Ed, who loves coming to New Britain for Polish food. “We’ve been coming here for 25 years and you bet I’m excited that we can come here to eat again.”
“It’s ‘home at last’ for him,” said his wife, Millie, with a smile.
Gov. Ned Lamont set specific guidelines for restaurants to reopen for outdoor seating only starting May 20. Owners who wish to offer outdoor dining options have to comply with state and local regulations, including social distancing rules and strict disinfecting routines. The city has also been working with establishments who wish to reopen on guideline education, clarification, and permitting.
Five Churches Brewing on Arch Street opened up its patio for outside dining with tables spaced out to adhere to proper social distancing rules. Its pizza kitchen has been busy baking up fresh pizzas for customers who have waited so long to return.
“I’ve been thinking about their pizzas during the entire quarantine,” said Rhiana Sklavouris, a Plainville resident. “My family and I talk about it all the time and it feels great to finally be able to eat it again. It’s also so nice to not be shut up inside the house.”
Christina Caccioppoli, a partner of Five Churches Brewing, said customers have been calling to reserve meal times, which has been great. As part of their reopening plans, all dining will be set in blocks of time to allow a safe turnover and full sanitation in between guests. The times include 12 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., 1:45 p.m. to 3:15 p.m., 3:30 p.m. to 4:45 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. All seating will be limited to tables outside and only up to five people of the same party are allowed per table.
“So far it’s been working well,” Caccioppoli said. “People understand why we’re doing the time blocks. The thought process is to not have a lot of people outside at the same time and to keep everyone, including our staff, safe.”
They are planning to rotate about five staff members per shift.
Because it is the first day, Caccioppoli anticipates a slower beginning while people start to become comfortable again with eating out. “This isn’t just a change for the restaurants, it’s a change for the customers, too. I just hope people will start getting used to it again and come out. We’re always going to be here for them.”
For Jon Gotchis, a longtime patron of Brian’s Fare Restaurant, he said it was a great feeling being able to sit outside and have a meal at one of his favorite eateries.
“I wanted to be sure I was here for the first day of reopening,” he said. “I’ve been supporting the restaurant by ordering takeout but it’s not the same as eating the food fresh out of the kitchen.”
Bonnie Sawicki from Southington agreed. She ordered a hamburger as her first meal back at Brian’s Fare and said she hopes the general mood will begin to elevate as businesses starts to reopen and the weather stays nice and sunny.
“This makes me happy and I feel more cheerful just by being here,” she said. “I think everyone is going to start feeling more positive as things become more normal.”
Contact Catherine Shen at email@example.com