As Arizona’s number of COVID-19 cases continue to increase, newly reopened Arcadia restaurants are grappling with positive tests in their own backyard.
A number of restaurants in the east Phoenix neighborhood have been forced to shut their doors due to positive coronavirus tests. The Porch, Zipps Sports Grill, and Hash Kitchen have all closed indefinitely. Chelsea’s Kitchen was closed temporarily, while Essence Bakery is closed till July 1 after it was reported a family member of one of the staff tested positive.
Zipps has 14 locations in the Valley, and positive cases have been reported at three of them. The bulk of those positive tests came from employees at the Arcadia location, where at least five tested positive, but the company was informed Wednesday of a case each at the Hayden and Park Central locations, according to Tiffany Doby, marketing and public relations director for the bar and grill chain. Upon reopening in May, Zipps did not require employees to wear masks or gloves while on the job.
“We responded immediately for all three stores, notifying all employees that were potentially exposed and they are being tested,” says Doby. “All three locations will be closed until further notice.”
She says reopening the affected restaurants will be contingent on negative test results and having enough healthy staff members on hand to cover shifts.
Moving forward, Zipps will continue to enforce sanitation guidelines, social distancing, limited guest capacity, and employee wellness screenings prior to each shift. Starting June 19, all employees will now be required to wear masks.
“We are in uncharted waters with COVID-19,” Doby concedes. “Things are changing so rapidly and, like everyone else, we are learning the best way to navigate through this crisis and respond appropriately.”
LGO Hospitality, the parent group of Chelsea’s Kitchen, also announced this week that guests will be required to wear masks in their establishments unless seated at a table. The new policy will stay in place for the foreseeable future.
The policy change comes days after Chelsea’s Kitchen closed its dining room, though the restaurant remained open for takeout and delivery. The dining area is now back open.
“Chelsea’s Kitchen has recently learned that a person close to the restaurant has tested positive for COVID-19,” Deirdre James, the regional sales and director of marketing for LGO Hospitality, tells Phoenix New Times. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have closed the restaurant for dine in service.”
James says that the restaurant has previously undergone deep sanitation from Hospitality Bio-Cleaners and mandatory sanitation training for employees, and has executed best practices from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those practices, like single-use menus and social distancing, will continue once the restaurant eventually reopens, and are in place for all LGO restaurants, including La Grande Orange Grocery & Pizzeria.
Other Arcadia restaurants are taking notice of the surging cases and enacting preventative measures before COVID-19 reaches their doors.
Upward Projects, which operates Postino Wine Cafe and Joyride Taco House, among others, also released information on how they’re combating the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Arizona. The group has not announced any cases in its restaurants as of yet.
“While closure is an important arrow in our quiver, closure is not where the action stops,” reads a press release from the company. “It is critical to immediately quarantine the individuals who have had exposure, to sanitize the restaurant and, if necessary, restaff the restaurant with unaffected team members according to guidelines set by the CDC.”
Upward Projects says its eateries will remain open if those goals can be achieved, but is not opposed to closing if they aren’t possible at this juncture.
Like Chelsea’s Kitchen, Hash Kitchen was also committed to sanitation and safety practices when the brunch spot reopened for dine-in on May 11. All employees wore masks and gloves, had temperature checks before each shift, and washed their hands every 15 minutes. Despite these efforts, the restaurant reported a positive COVID-19 case at its Arcadia location, which is currently closed. All other locations remain open for now.
The company executed mass testing among employees across all locations this past weekend and aims to open again on June 18 if all tests are negative. Testing will be done once a week moving forward. Hash Kitchen will also spray a ‘virus vaporizer’ from a third-party company called Enviro-Master once a week to sanitize each restaurant thoroughly.
Hash Kitchen spokesperson Erica Knight says the goal is to have these practices in place so they can reopen without having to close again. Mass testing and weekly sanitation sprays are an extra cost the company is willing to shoulder because “public safety is number one.”
“As we learn and figure out what to do and we can do, we’re evolving every single day in our protective measures and our safety measures and will continue to do so,” Knight says. “Cost and all of that is not going to prevent [Hash Kitchen] from getting all of these things to keep everybody safe.”
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Hash Kitchen did not stay open for takeout during the mandatory shut-down, meaning it's taken an extra financial hit closing again so soon after reopening, she says.
Knight hypothesizes that since Arcadia is home to mostly younger, healthy families, they might be less concerned about a virus that seems to most harshly impact older people. But while Arcadia seems to be a new hot spot, the virus is spreading rapidly throughout the city and state, and Hash Kitchen wants to be prepared to combat this.
“We’re going to do everything that we possibly can and that we know of that’s out there to prevent the spread and prevent anybody from getting sick,” Knight says. “If it’s out there, we’ll do it.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated from its original version.