I won’t be walking into an ice cream shop to order a double dip Monday.
I won’t be sitting down for a three-course dinner or a gooey grilled-cheese sandwich or a leisurely coffee. I won’t be grabbing a cinnamon roll, pondering a menu, requesting dessert and a refill on my water.
I’m not ready to dine in.
And a lot of local eateries aren’t ready to have me.
May 11 marks the date Lincoln will loosen up COVID-19 restrictions, following Gov. Pete Ricketts’ guidelines that will allow limited seating at restaurants along with haircuts and tattoos and massages (I won’t be getting any of those, either).
Goldenrod Pastries doesn’t have a problem with me staying away from its display case of airy macaroons, gluten-free cookies and dairy-less cakes.
“I definitely won’t be opening my doors for the foreseeable future,” said owner Angela Garbacz. “How can we plan to reopen in the middle of the worst wave of Lincoln being hit?”
Garbacz has temporarily closed her small 48th Street and Prescott Avenue location and has rehired several bakers she’d had to furlough to work in a larger second location inside The Bay, at 20th and Y streets.
When I talked to her Thursday, she was training them on proper mask-wearing and other PPE protocols. Safety is first, she said.
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“As a small business, we want to serve our community and we want to be available, but the guidelines they’re giving us aren’t representative of what we can do.”
For now: Order ahead from a limited menu. Pay ahead. Pick up outside.
It’s been a similar drill all over Lincoln since the restrictions that began in March evolved into a complete shutdown of indoor dining.
Parts of the state — including Omaha — opened up restaurants May 4. Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird extended Lincoln’s shutdown to May 11, with the blessing of the governor.
Ricketts says open and, reluctantly, the mayor is.
But not the coffee shop that knows her as a steady customer and a generous tipper.
“We’re not going to be reopening Monday, and I don’t know when we will be,” said Jason Anderson, co-owner of Cultiva Coffee. “It doesn’t seem particularly safe right now.”
“Long story short, we will not be opening,” said Crescent Moon co-owner Amanda Martinson. “We’re not doing that.”
“We’re not opening our dining room yet,” said Jennifer Jurado, general manager at Tico’s. "We're basing our decisions on the humans we have here. People can't eat wearing masks and we don't want our staff exposed."
“We’re really uncomfortable opening to the public until cases locally start to drop,” said Rachel McGill, co-owner of DISH. “It’s scary for us personally, for our staff and for our guests.”
And they all love their guests.
“Nobody wants to say no to their customers,” said Ivanna Cone owner Amy Green. “But we’re not going to change what we’re doing now.”
Which is keeping the front door closed. Allowing phone orders for pick up at the alley window only.
And for Green, who has been in the ice cream business nearly 23 years, keeping employees safe is her priority.
It’s not just the mom-and-pop shops hesitating.
Famous Dave’s will not open its dining room Monday.
Lazlo’s will remain closed for dine-in and posted this on its Facebook page: “NOTHING IS MORE IMPORTANT TO US than your health and happiness, and that of our dedicated staff. With this in mind, we have decided to wait a bit longer to reopen our dining rooms.”
Another Lincoln institution — Valentino’s — plans to keep its locations closed for a wait-and-see week.
Lincoln’s Village Inns will be open — shorter hours, fewer tables. Olive Garden’s website indicates it will open Monday, and Brewsky’s Facebook page says it can’t wait. “Excited to Re-open under CDC guidelines.”
Penelope’s Lil' Cafe wants your socially distanced sit-down business, too, with one caveat: “If you are not feeling well please please stay home for the health of everybody!”
It’s tough, said Doug Dittman, owner of The Hub Cafe, a farm-to-table restaurant in the heart of Union Plaza.
“One of the big issues facing a restaurant now is you have to keep people safe and healthy,” he said. “That’s No. 1.”
He feels for the supply chain — his local farmers who have seen the market for their eggs and chickens dwindle.
Right now, Dittman hopes to open May 26, the Tuesday after Memorial Day. He and his staff are eyeing their outdoor options, including the adjacent Jayne Snyder Trails Center, which they lease.
The corollary: “We can open up meeting the state’s requirement, but will people actually come?”
At DISH, McGill and her wife and business partner, Marypat Heineman, have thought about that as well. Would people want to go out for a leisurely dinner right now?
They feel lucky to have a large dining room, outdoor space and a lower level, but not safe enough to open. Not for their employees or their skeleton-crew staff.
“We started with 18 people, and I don’t know if we’ll be able to get back to that number,” McGill said, “even in six months.”
So they will stay closed and continue curbside pick-up, evolving as they go.
“The biggest word for the entire service industry has been pivot,” she said. “Just continue to pivot.”
You can order a rotating menu of family-style meals delivered to your car from DISH four nights a week for now. Cultiva will deliver bags of coffee to your front porch, along with Saturday morning carside delivery of drinks and Johnny Cake breakfasts from its coffee-brewing lab on Randolph Street.
Crescent Moon is selling popular drinks in bulk. Tico’s four phone lines ring off the hook for carryout. The Hub has a takeout menu and has started offering an outdoor food cart three nights a week.
(Public service announcement: Continue to support your favorite restaurants — they are so grateful. Try someplace new, too. Tip well for takeout.)
Seven weeks into the shutdown, nearly every venue in town — including Venue — has pivoted to serve its customers and stay afloat.
Even so, revenues are down, 60%, 70%, 80%, 90% for some of the restaurants I talked to. Many have received small business loans — from the Paycheck Protection Program — to carry them through the short term, but the scary part, they say, is not knowing what the future holds.
“The easiest way for my business to run and be financially successful in the long term is if customers can come in and order what they want and leave with their treats,” Goldenrod’s Garbacz said.
It’s scary to not know when that is, she said, but it’s scarier still to think about COVID-19 cases trending up in Lincoln.
So, for now, the doors will remain locked.
“Our safety is very important, too, and I think our customer base will understand.”
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