Restaurant News

Two Weeks Later: Checking in on Some Reopened Phoenix Restaurants

All three locations of HULA’s Modern Tiki opened on May 14.
All three locations of HULA’s Modern Tiki opened on May 14. HULA’s Modern Tiki
As of the week of May 11, restaurants and bars have been given permission to open their doors for dine-in services with some restrictions, like maintaining proper sanitation and restricting the dining room capacity to 25 percent. Many restaurants have been skeptical of whether or not it was right to offer dine-in options given the current uncertain status of the pandemic, while others jumped at the chance to open.

Dana Mule, owner of HULA’s Modern Tiki, says being able to reopen was like a breath of fresh air for not only customers who have been stuck at home, but also his wait staff, who were eager to get back to work.

click to enlarge The new High Street location of Hula's. - HULA’S MODERN TIKI
The new High Street location of Hula's.
HULA’s Modern Tiki
“It was a great night — everyone who was there was just breathing a sigh of relief after being cooped up in the house,” Mule says. “It wasn’t an overwhelming crowd, but it was a nice crowd. In general, people really enjoyed themselves.”

HULA’s reopened its three dining rooms on May 14, and while the opening didn’t draw CASA-size crowds, Mule says they were surprised at how many people came into the restaurant to dine in.

Huss Brewing Co. is another business that recently resumed its dine-in options. The brewery opened earlier than HULA’s, on May 11, and business has been slow but steady.

Mike Chapman, the general manager for the Huss Brewing Company taproom at Uptown Plaza, said reopening the dining room just felt natural for him and his staff.

“We got a really good response from our regulars,” he says. “It was a really good first week for sure.”

Chapman says Huss has left it to the discretion of the staff on whether or not they wear masks and gloves. He said that if a customer comes in wearing a mask or gloves, the staff will respect their choice by also wearing a mask or gloves when helping that customer.

“We all wear Huss bandanas around our neck so if we get too close to a table or help a customer look at a menu item, we pull our mask up over our mouth,” he said. “We do the same thing if someone comes in wearing a mask.”

click to enlarge Huss Brewing Company at Uptown Plaza. - DAVE CLARK
Huss Brewing Company at Uptown Plaza.
Dave Clark
Chapman has also noticed a positive reaction to reopening its restaurant from customers. He said at first he was worried about having giant waves of customers wanting to come in, but has instead seen a gradual increase of business.

Restaurants and bars under Evening Entertainment Group were able to start opening their restaurants on May 15. Jeff O’Neill, regional manager for the company, said their restaurants — including Sandbar Mexican Grill and RnR Gastropub — were slightly overwhelmed with the constant change of regulations and guidelines given to them in order to reopen.

He said when they did reopen, it was difficult to make sure everyone was properly attended to while still staying within the government's guidelines. But now that they’ve been open for more than a week, they’re starting to slip into a new routine.

click to enlarge RnR in Old Town Scottsdale. - TIMUR GUSEYNOV
RnR in Old Town Scottsdale.
Timur Guseynov
“People were very good about social distancing and understood everything,” he says. “My employees and managers were also just really excited to be at work. It’s like a grand opening again.”

Some restaurants were preparing for reopening even before the stay-at-home orders expired. Jeff Mastro, the co-owner of Dominick’s Steakhouse, Steak 44, and Ocean 44, says they spent a month in advance preparing their dining rooms and staff for a safe reopening.

“We have made a temporary switch to single-use, disposable menus and as an added convenience, and an effort to limit waste of paper, we rolled out a QR code menu that allows guests to view all of our menus on their smartphone,” he writes in an email. “The feeling [of reopening] is very good, along with our guests and employees we have also protected the totality of dining experience.”

Back at Huss, Chapman says the people who have come out to reopenings in the past week are the ones who were really ready to be out of the house. He also says within the next two weeks, people who weren’t sure about whether it was time to go out will hopefully start to feel more comfortable.

“We’re trying to win people over with cleanliness,” Chapman says. “We’re trying to show people that this is a safe, clean place to come and that we’re taking their health seriously.”
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Sara Edwards is a journalist Phoenix-based and freelance writer for Phoenix New Times. She loves digging into a bowl of ramen or pho, talking someone’s ear off about Star Wars, and getting sucked into a true crime podcast.
Contact: Sara Edwards