MARIETTA — Despite Gov. Brian Kemp’s announcement that restaurants would be able to reopen for dine-in services April 27, with certain limitations, some Marietta restaurateurs and their customers say it’s too soon.
Even as the local eateries have taken massive hits to their bottom lines, their owners say the health of their staff and customers comes first.
Jim Tidwell, owner of the popular Marietta Square breakfast and lunch destination The Marietta Local, says his restaurant was one of the first to close due to coronavirus concerns in mid-March.
Tidwell, who also owns a catering company and another breakfast and brunch spot in Kennesaw, BaseCamp at Kennesaw Mountain, said his companies haven’t even been offering takeout or curbside orders as many other restaurants have been. He said he’ll be exploring whether to offer those options with a limited menu in the coming days.
Since the closures began, Tidwell said he’s temporarily laid off his nearly 50 staff members and each company has lost “tens of thousands of dollars.” But still, he said, health and safety for customers and staff comes first. He told the MDJ, given the continued concern around the coronavirus, Kemp’s permission to reopen restaurants seems premature.
“I don’t think it’s time yet. To be honest with you, I was shocked with what came out of yesterday’s speech,” Tidwell said. “And I don’t think Mr. and Mrs. Jones and their family are going to be rushing back out to the dining room at this point. I think they’re going to be a little apprehensive.”
Tidwell said he’ll watch for how robust dine-in business is at other establishments to inform his own decisions for the near future. Notably, the restaurateur said if the courts in Marietta reopen, Monday through Friday business at The Marietta Local would be viable.
Brielle Gaines, owner of Tiny Bubbles Tea Bar on the Square, said her dining room closed in late March and would not reopen until at least May 1, if not later.
“We’re trying to protect our team and our customers,” she said. “It might be legal to now open up, but until we feel like we’ve seen a change in what’s going on out there with all the infections, we don’t want to infect our team or have the customers exposed either.”
Gaines said, even though her shop and tea bar is largely reliant on to-go orders and customers who pop in to buy something and then leave, her establishment has lost about 40% of its revenue and temporarily laid off some of its staff as the coronavirus has slowed the local economy. The Tiny Bubbles location at the Marietta Square Market has also closed until further notice.
But Gaines remains optimistic. She said her store on the Square has been able to stay running using a pickup station near the counter, curbside deliveries outside the store and ramping up online orders through the Tiny Bubbles Tea Bar mobile app, as well as Uber Eats and GrubHub.
“Think of it like a Starbucks, where you can go in and order and then sit. But it’s not like there’s table service. It’s just now, people can’t hang out here,” she said.
Gaines did note, however, that food delivery apps like Uber Eats often take a 70% cut of sales and don’t provide tips to Tiny Bubbles staff who have historically relied on them.
Meanwhile, Mark Allen, owner of The Australian Bakery Cafe on the Square, says he would open up for customers looking for a place to sit and eat starting April 27, though every other booth inside will be closed. Allen and other business owners told the MDJ they’re being told to remove tables and space seats so that customers will be sitting at least six feet apart. They also said they’ll have to ramp up sanitation efforts and require workers to wear masks and gloves.
Public health officials say they’re working on providing guidance for businesses.
Like the others, Allen said that even though his store has taken a considerable hit and 20% of his staff are choosing to stay out of work, Kemp’s permission to reopen has seemingly come too early. He chalks the decision up to political pressure.
“I think we should have waited another three or four weeks,” Allen said, adding that his restaurant’s cross-country shipment of meat pies has helped keep them afloat. “We’ve got a virus here at the moment that no one knows really what it does. ... The whole thing’s been a day-to-day learning experience.”
And some local restaurant patrons out and about on the Square on Tuesday agreed.
Sitting on a bench in Glover Park with a to-go lunch from the nearby Sugar Cakes Patisserie & Bistro, Jane Williams said she would not return to sit down for a meal in a restaurant unless there is a guaranteed 6 feet between patrons at all times. Williams responded, “Good for them,” at the news that some eateries have chosen to continue with takeout only.
Williams said she’s continued to support local restaurants by ordering takeout as often as she can.
Flay Muellenbach, a Marietta resident whose nephew owns a restaurant in Hiram, said she agreed with his decision to take a “wait and see” approach, keeping doors closed to dine-in traffic until further notice. In the meantime, she said, the restaurant will continue with its curbside deliveries.
As restaurant owners predicted, others walking the Square in surgical or cloth masks told the MDJ they won’t be ready to set foot inside a restaurant until they’re confident the spread of the coronavirus is under control. And so far, they say they’re not convinced that is the case.
Here’s a list of some other Marietta restaurants and establishments and whether or not they’ll be open for dine-in come Monday. Most to be open for dine-in say they’re still waiting for guidance from health officials to make decisions on what dine-in will look like:
♦ Marietta Diner, 306 Cobb Parkway South: Open for dine-in on Monday
♦ Douceur De France, 277 South Marietta Parkway: Open for dine-in on Monday
♦ Piastra, 45 West Park Square: Open for dine-in starting May 5, at earliest
♦ Marietta Pizza Company, 3 Whitlock Avenue: Open for limited dine-in on Monday
♦ Taqueria Tsunami, 70 South Park Square: Still deciding
♦ Sugar Cakes Patisserie & Bistro, 101 North Park Square: Still deciding
♦ Starbucks, 30 Whitlock Avenue: Remaining closed for dine-in until further notice
♦ The Marietta Square Market’s dining room will remain closed, except for some patio seating beginning next week, according to developers of the food hall. Four restaurants — Grand Champion BBQ, Lucky’s Burger and Brew, Ponko Chicken and Forno Vero — will continue curbside pickups. Around a dozen are expected to open for takeout in mid May, and the dining room is expected to open at the end of May