More than 300 Arizona small business owners, including many Valley restaurateurs, came together in the past month to sign a letter, called Too Soon Arizona, stating it was too early to open their businesses amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Classic Crust Pizza is one of those businesses that signed the letter. It will stay closed for dine-in until the number of new coronavirus cases in the state goes down.
“Every day, I pull the numbers for the four main zip codes that we service and one of them is going up a lot right now,” says owner Alex Geiger. “Until these numbers stabilize, I don’t think it’s a prudent thing to do.”
Geiger closed his family-owned pizzeria one week before Arizona Governor Doug Ducey ordered restaurants to do so on March 20. Though restaurants could resume dine-in services as of May 11, Classic Crust Pizza will continue to rely on takeout and delivery to make ends meet.
In addition to public health and safety, Geiger wants to ensure he and his team have the proper precautions in place to safely welcome guests into his restaurant once again. He’s ordered plexiglass shields for his register and bar, but they will take some time to arrive due to surging demand across the country.
But even though Geiger firmly believes it is too soon to reopen his own restaurant, he supports other restaurants who did reopen in May.
“It’s really hard to run a restaurant and there’s a lot of people that depend on restaurant jobs, and I totally get it,” he says. “I want to be supportive of their decisions as well. I’m not trying to pick a side or anything.”
That sentiment is shared by Tracy Schoenley, the owner of Gilbert’s Peacock Wine Bar. Her bar remains open for pick-up orders only.
“I appreciate the businesses who have decided to open,” Schoenley says. ”For me, it just isn’t the best thing at this time.”
Schoenley’s business was completely closed for a month from March 20 to mid-April during the state’s shutdown before opening for to-go orders of wine and charcuterie. She says there are still too many unknowns for her to consider allowing guests back into her bar and little guidance from the state.
“What if someone contracts COVID through my bar and then it’s traced back to my bar? There’s never been any real clear information on that,” she says. “It boiled down to safety, and I thought we were safest to be closed.”
Staying closed also makes financial sense for Schoenley, particularly if a second wave of the virus hits and Peacock is forced to shut down again. She is planning for a June 15 reopening, but remains cautious.
“It’s less money to stay closed than it is for me to re-do all my inventory, buy all new food, and then have to shut down again,” she says.
Tempe’s Honeymoon Sweets Bakery has been around long enough to survive the economic aftershocks of September 11 and the 2008 recession. Owners Tim and Joan O’Connor say it will get through COVID-19, too.
The bakery is offering next-day pickup through its online shopping feature for now so guests can still order custom cakes, pastries, and homemade tarts for events. But customers will still have to wait a bit before they can walk in whenever they want.
“Cases are still climbing. We haven’t been hit like a lot of other places, but I don’t think the testing regimen has been as rigorous as it could be,” Tim says. “In our gut, we just didn’t feel like we were ready to do it.”
The bakery was completely closed for two weeks starting March 17 before reopening in its current limited capacity. Tim says he sees many not taking the pandemic seriously by wearing masks or keeping their distance when he goes to buy essential materials for the business.
Honeymoon Sweets — which supplies Whole Foods, local Hilton hotels, and hospitals with its desserts in addition to its in-shop offerings — wants to ensure it has a safety regimen in place for customers and staff to be as protected as possible. Already, staff must sanitize, take their temperature, and measure their blood oxygen levels (with a small device placed on their finger to check for low oxygen, one of COVID-19's symptoms) before starting each work day.
But the O’Connors say there are some positives to this experience as well.
“We’ve had time to work on ourselves as far as what’s working in the bakery and what’s not,” Joan says.
Like Tim, Deirdre Pain in Scottsdale says she’s seen many not take this virus seriously — and it’s one of the factors stopping her from opening Malee’s Thai Bistro for dine-in.
“I wanted to follow the advice of the medical experts,” Pain says, even as Old Town Scottsdale, where her restaurant is located, is opening to customers. “I would feel terrible if one of my employees or guests got sick. I wouldn’t forgive myself.”
She says opening with 50 percent of her tables removed would leave her with only 15, which would not be financially worthwhile. For now, she and her skeleton crew are doing well enough with carryout orders, and it seems her guests are supportive of her decision. Pain posted on Facebook about remaining closed and signed the Too Soon Arizona letter, and has received hundreds of positive responses. Not one was negative, she says.
With the help of customer contributions, Malee’s has donated more than 800 individually wrapped meals to healthcare workers at the HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center. She sees their exhaustion firsthand when she goes to deliver food and doesn’t want to contribute to the spread any further.
“As long as the cases keep going up, I don’t feel comfortable [reopening],” she says. “I’d rather err on the side of caution.”
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