Restaurants bring warmth and shelter to outdoor dining for winter

Luciano Marano
lmarano@ptleader.com
Posted 11/27/20

It’s not a comeback if they never left.

But rising instances of COVID-19 infections have led to major changes locally, including pausing most of what little in-person school was being …

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Restaurants bring warmth and shelter to outdoor dining for winter

Posted

It’s not a comeback if they never left.

But rising instances of COVID-19 infections have led to major changes locally, including pausing most of what little in-person school was being allowed, modification of many people’s holiday plans, and a second government-mandated prohibition on indoor dining in restaurants.

However, breakfast, lunch, dinner (and happy hour), much like the proverbial show, must go on.

To that end, a number of local eateries are adapting outdoor seating for use in the colder, wetter months with tents and heaters that protect diners from the elements even as spacing and air flow protects them from COVID.

Kris Nelson, owner of several Port Townsend bars and restaurants, including The Old Whiskey Mill and Sirens, among others, has long been working with the city to keep the streeteries open and devise a plan that allows restaurants to use tents to continue outdoor dining.

Nelson now has tents up at Alchemy Bistro and Wine Bar and The Old Whiskey Mill, with arrangements at Sirens in the works.

The customer response was effusive and immediate.

“As we were opening people were sitting,” Nelson said. “We’re hanging the lights up and people are sitting down.”

“People really want a place to go and get waited on and have their food on plates, not in a box, and have a drink and be out and about. But they don’t want to freeze and they want to be safe,” she said. “So you have to make sure to tick all those boxes.”

As part of her preparation and permit filings, Nelson visited other cities in Washington to see other restaurants and streeteries and learn about tents — design, construction, wind resistance.

Not exactly “Restaurant 101.”

“I thought that all I had to master was plumbing,” she laughed. “No, I did not think engineering was going to be on that list.”

Preparations were also begun early at the Spruce Goose Cafe, at Jefferson County International Airport, which has added heaters and covering to its patio area.

“At the end of summer was when we decided to put the cover on,” said owner Andrea Raymor.

“We decided to do that and [add] the heaters because we were concerned that 50 percent capacity inside in the winter was not going to carry us through. So we kind of got that ball rolling just in anticipation of that current status and it became — we didn’t realize how really, really important it was going to be become,” she said.

Already crucial, outdoor dining is obviously that much more important given the second ban on eating inside and an uncertain future, Raymor said.

“It’s the make-or-break for us,” she said.

Customers seem happy to make use of the opportunity.

“[Thursday] we were at least full or mostly full a good portion of the afternoon,” Raymor said. “It was good and the response to the heaters was great.”

All the hoops and hassles are worth it in the end, both owners agreed, if it means safe and happy customers and, just as important, safe and happy employees.

“It is my job and responsibility to make sure that my staff has work,” Nelson said. “It is my job and responsibility to look forward as much as humanly possible and to recognize that things are not always going to be perfect and what is the next thing coming so that you’re not quite so surprised.”

Outdoor dining, she said, has been “literally critical” to her businesses staying open this year.

“As soon as they allowed the streeteries we … were able to get back up to about 80 percent of our normal sales,” she said. “Otherwise, remember we’re restricted inside to 50 percent. And people, frankly, are just more comfortable outside and I really respect that. I understand that, so I want to do everything possible to get people outside where they feel more comfortable.”

And it is, Nelson said, actually quite comfortable.

“Yes, you still have to wear a coat,” she said, “but it won’t be like parka and full-on gloves while trying to eat your burger.”

The second prohibition on indoor dining in restaurants was predictably controversial, with a group of lawmakers and a major hospitality association imploring Gov. Jay Inslee to reconsider his four-week ban, claiming the economic effects will be devastating, and others alleging the hospitality industry is insufficiently concerned with workplace safety.

Nelson’s reaction to the order was disappointed confusion, and she said a complete ban was unnecessarily harsh as there have been no new infections linked to restaurants in the state.

“I really thought that he would say OK, here are some more strict guidelines, we’re going to drop your occupancy a little more or we’re going to make these things more stringent,” she said.

“But I didn’t think he would shut indoor dining altogether because the restaurants have been doing so well at following the rules.”

Comments

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Sheila

Thank you, Kris, for everything you do!

You're such a hard worker and we're so lucky you're here in P.T.

THANK YOU! You are so appreciated!

Saturday, November 28, 2020
HarveyW Colatteral Damage

A happy feel good story. Of course best to all businesses, eateries included. The parking space use is on top of no parking enforcement for years. Many spaces are lost daily to regular parking hogs in 2 hour spots. At what point do streeteries displace business access? At what point does someone deal with the big picture? Never.

Kris is president of Main Street. City Manager Mauro is in the social loop and unqualified according to research done by the PT Free Press. This is common knowledge if one pays attention. "Sheila's" past comments place blame on "lazy" visitors who won't use obscure parking they can't know about that employees and residents should be using. She ends with the baseless threat of paving over Memorial Field. Works every time. Very perky anonymous Sheila. Here is how some minds work. Or don't. Happy Holidays.

Word is Kris just bought a 6 million dollar building. She does so much she must be turning it into low income condo's for her help. Selfless.

Sheila and her perky propaganda. ---I have lived in P.T. for many years, and most of the time , unless it's a festival or a busy summer weekend, there isn't, if you're not too lazy, that much of a problem parking if you just look around. I wish merchants would stop complaining about it. You may need to drive around the block, and you might not be able to park right smack in front of the exact store you want to go in to, and you might need to walk a block or two. Geez. Get out and walk a bit and enjoy our cute downtown. You might discover something new!

The 'secret' places are; up the hill a bit on either end of downtown,(Washington and Monroe Streets)and also above downtown and walk down the steps to the fountain. (pretty much unlimited parking up there) Yeah, sure ,it won't work for the disabled, of course, but they have their own spots.

The classic head shaker for me was when I first met a young shopkeeper years ago who was just starting out downtown, and her idea for parking was to turn the athletic field into a parking garage. At the time I was horrified at such a cheek from someone who had just barely unpacked here. What an horrific thought.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020
Sheila

To HarveyW:

Kris owns numerous businesses and keeps a lot of people employed. This is a good thing. Her restaurants and bars are nice places for both tourists and locals and add a lot to our town. Don't be jealoous.

There are a number of great entrepreneurs who help make P.T. a better place and Kris is one of them.

Oh, and that "young shopkeeper" I had referenced before is still downtown town well over 20 years later, so apparently she survived without paving over the field.

People must have found parking.

Saturday, December 5, 2020
HarveyW Colatteral Damage

Shelies-

You used to be a cheerleader didn't you? Why so ashamed of yourself not to use your name? Good on Kris for employing folks. Jealousy is for losers. So is groveling to be liked by writing shallow propaganda. Over the years her employees have been a major element in parking problems, hopefully now after some rather unpleasant folk got in my face that is mostly over.

The closing of Taylor for Kris's benefit was something I had to contact the City Attorney about. It was her and Not Really Qualified City Manager Mauro "brainstrorming" using Main Street "Open Streets Initiative" that is not a voted on initiative at all. Your simplification of complicated issues must make sense to you, and make you a valuable friend.

Work on sounding less smarmy.

Sunday, December 6, 2020