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Temporary patios reviving restaurants

Emily Lytle * Delaware
elytle@doverpost.com
Dover Post

This week brings yet another change for restaurants. In the second phase of economic reopening June 15, restaurants can seat customers up to 60% fire code capacity. The first phase allowed 30% capacity.

Gina Monteleone, owner of Wolfie’s Bar and Grille, said the change will bring back all of her tables and half the bar seats. She said she is eager to see more of her customers again.

“We just look forward to getting back to it and seeing all our favorite people,” she said. “We’ve really built a big, giant family and I can’t wait to have all of them back.”

While Monteleone said she thinks people are still nervous to dine out, one thing has helped: outdoor seating.

Gov. John Carney announced mid-May that restaurants could apply to their municipal or county government to temporarily expand outdoor seating. Once approved, that seating could open June 1.

Four restaurants in Dover applied to the planning office, and all were approved in about 48 hours. The online application process opened May 29, and each owner said it was fairly quick and easy. Restaurants with liquor licenses had to receive approval from the Office of Alcoholic Beverage Control to serve alcohol outside.

Vincenzo’s Pizzeria & Gelato, which reopened inside an old TD Bank in December, accelerated plans to convert the bank’s drive-thru into a shaded seating area. The outside area opened June 1 and has doubled the restaurant’s seating while under the 30% capacity restrictions, owners Vincenzo and Katie Maddalena said.

While it seems like people are still hesitant to dine out, they said more people are starting to enjoy the outside seating, especially on cool nights.

The permits expire July 30. “At that point, they would need to remove their temporary seating areas,” Dover Fire Marshal Jason Osika said.

Vincenzo Maddalena said he is talking with the city’s planning office and hoping to work out a more permanent plan.

Cesar Estrada, whose family owns La Hacienda, is also considering applying to keep their outdoor seating beyond July 30. They opened outdoor seating on the sidewalk outside the main entrance and under a tent in the parking lot.

Under earlier restrictions, Estrada could only seat eight tables inside. Now, the temporary permit allows for up to 17 tables outside.

“Having seven tables outside [the main entrance], I’m able to distance them so much further apart and people feel more comfortable outdoors,” he said. Even with the outdoor seating, he agreed with other owners that overall confidence in dining out is growing gradually. Takeout orders still dominate their business, he said.

Estrada said they have changed the floor plan and how the restaurant runs several times in the past few months to serve customers safely. He thanked the community for being patient, especially since some of his employees are teenagers learning a new job during this time.

“Everyone’s been patient so far, but just remember to take into consideration that this is all new to everyone,” he said.

La Baguette Bakery has seen a dramatic shift in business over the past couple months. Besides delivering meals to health care workers at Bayhealth, the cafe was closed April 3 to May 9. Now, as of June 15, it has returned to its previous business hours.

“I appreciate everyone’s support and we’re very happy to be able to reopen our doors. Not everyone is as lucky as we are,” said owner Anita Wheeler-Bezy.

The owners have reopened their outdoor seating area beside the building and added temporary seating in a cordoned off parking space.

Wheeler-Bezy said she has noticed more people coming by to sit with a cup of coffee or a sandwich as they take breaks from work.

“It’s just a nice, little pleasant area to sit down and enjoy yourself,” she said of the temporary patio, which is decorated with pinwheel flowers and bright colors.

Wolfie’s Bar and Grille did not close, relying on takeout orders. “It’s an up-and-down roller coaster,” owner Gina Monteleone said. “There [are] good days and bad days.”

More people are interested in dining outside, but she said it’s not enough to bring her staff back to full hours. “It’s hard to keep your tip-earning staff when there’s no tips to be had,” she said. “My bartenders haven’t worked in two months.”

She has five high-top tables on the sidewalk outside her restaurant, and she is working to make it permanent. “People love sitting outside,” she said. “We’re getting more of a response for outdoor seating.”

She is hopeful that more people will start eating out in the coming weeks as Wolfie’s reopens almost everything but their pool and dart leagues.

“Life should be a little normal come Monday,” she said.