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Some successful for dine-in reopening, another sees continued preference for to-go orders

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

CHINA GROVE —  With a head nod and mouth full of food, China Grove resident Ann Deyton on Saturday said restaurants reopening for dine-in service is “very good,” before adding, “It’s good to be out and have others out with us.”

Ann and husband Tony were among the steady flow of dine-in customers enjoying a sit-down meal at Gary’s Bar-B-Cue, located at 620 US-29 in China Grove.

Friday at 5 p.m. marked the first day since their COVID-19 shutdown that restaurants in the state were authorized by Gov. Roy Cooper to reopen at 50% capacity while regularly disinfecting common spaces, maintaining social distancing requirements and conducting regular temperature checks for employees.

While some restaurants experienced a successful turnout for dine-in customers, others experienced most customers continuing take-out and to-go orders.

Gary’s Bar-B-Cue reopened to dine-in customers on Saturday at 11 a.m. after previously serving curbside pick-up and to-go orders only. Owner Gary Ritchie said the restaurant can serve 106 people with the 50% capacity limit, and the dining room was about half full around lunch time on Saturday. The crowd of customers had been steady throughout Saturday.

He added that so far, “everybody’s been pretty respectful” about guidelines for social distancing within the dining room. Some tables have been marked closed, and hand sanitizers are available to both customers and employees.

Now the restaurant is operating on a full staff of about 20, Ritchie said. Upon reopening, he added that one employee was “overjoyed” and compared it to the first day of school.

Mary Gray, and daughter Mikayla, both serve at Gary’s Bar-B-Cue, and said they’re glad to be back working the dining room, as they “need to be around” the customers.

Ritchie said he believes people are also “tickled” to be out and able to eat inside restaurants again.

Tony and Ann said Gary’s is their favorite place, and also the first place they’ve sat down to eat since restaurants were ordered close in March.

While employees aren’t wearing masks, the kitchen staff is wearing gloves, Ritchie said. Cooper’s executive order doesn’t require employees and customers to wear masks, but it is “strongly encouraged.”

“We’re trying to be as safe as we can,” Ritchie said. “It’s hard to fight something you don’t see.”

Gary’s Bar-B-Cue has been steady with its curbside and takeout orders, which represents “tremendous support from the community.” The staff anticipate a bigger turnout on Tuesday after the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Go Burrito in Salisbury, however, was “very tame” Friday night with its reopening of the dining room, said owner Mikey Wetzel. He added that about 95% of customers still took their food to-go.

“I think maybe people are accustomed to getting their food to-go,” he said.

The lack of dine-in customers surprised him, he said. He attributes the small turnout to “people being smart” and the stormy weather.

The restaurant, located at 115 W Fisher St., includes a side patio, the main dining room, upstairs seating and rooftop seating, which amounts to 25 seats for each of the four seating areas.

Wetzel added that the staff has been “overkilling it with the cleaning” as they have “already gone above and beyond.” For example, staff members have been wiping points-of-contact even more when customers use cash due to the fear of cash containing loads of germs.

Overall, Wetzel said the law is allowing people to use their best judgement and that Go Burrito has been allowing customers to “self-police.” He understands some people may believe it’s too early to dine in restaurants, or that they may have high-risk family members.

“If you’re the 50% comfortable with it, come on out,” he said. “If not, get food to-go.”

He added that, though he’s felt the community support, the only thing that will bring things back to normal is “getting society back to normal.”

La Cava, located at 329 S Church St., also saw success both Friday and Saturday nights with its reopening to dine-in customers. General manager and business partner Victoria Sanchez said the restaurant is still operating on a limited staff, but is able to seat about 48 people in the dining room. It continues to serve curbside pickup orders as well.

“Everybody was looking forward to coming out,” Sanchez said.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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