The pandemic has hit restaurants as hard as just about any other industry in Arizona. But in many ways, the state has been trying to help.
In December, Governor Doug Ducey introduced a grant program totaling $1 million to help restaurants expand their outdoor dining options in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Called the Safest Outside Restaurant Assistance Program (SORAP), it provides up to $10,000 per restaurant to expand its patio seating. Ducey also issued an executive order earlier in 2020 that temporarily reduced regulations on patio seating, allowing restaurants to expand their patio size into areas normally restricted by law, like sidewalks.
And earlier this month, Ducey announced he's adding $2 million to the original SORAP funding, allowing more restaurants to take advantage of the $10,000 grants.
Charleen Badman, chef and co-owner of FnB Restaurant in Scottsdale, says that thanks to the grant, as well as some of the restaurant’s own money, FnB staff was able to put tables and chairs outside and string lights around the perimeter of the patio. She added heaters near every table and got creative with the required barrier around the patio, adding decorative pots with herbs and flowers.
Badman says city officials have been a big help, guiding her through the process of getting approval for proper permits for the patio design, which had to be licensed for a variety of purposes, including to serve liquor, hold events, be accessible for emergency services, and be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. “At one point, they [city officials] called me at 8 o’clock at night on a Sunday to see if there was any way the city could help," she says.
Nick Campisano, who co-owns Clever Koi’s locations in Phoenix and Gilbert, says the $10,000 grant was helpful for his restaurant’s seating expansion as well. The grant and new rules enabled Clever Koi to add extra tables, lights, and potted plants of their own.
“It’s actually created a pretty awesome dining experience out there," Campisano says, "all the while keeping people safe.” He adds that the ability to add more tables is a big relief for smaller restaurants like his, given the state-mandated 50 percent capacity limit.
Gavin Jacobs, co-owner of The Brickyard Downtown in Chandler, agrees that the opportunity to expand his patio has helped improve revenue ... a lot. The Brickyard Downtown received one of the SORAP grants, allowing the restaurant to add seats for 28 people. The patio (which is more like a deck) was also spruced up with palm trees, planter boxes, and a fence.
The added capacity allowed Jacobs to hire more staff — a hostess, two servers, and a chef. Jacobs says before the patio, the restaurant was actually operating at 35 percent capacity because of the narrow structure of the building.
"That patio was huge," he says. "It got us back up to about 75 percent capacity of what we initially had."
Jarrod Martinez of Jarrod's Coffee, Tea and Gallery in downtown Mesa has a special plan for his grant. In addition to adding 20 more seats, he's putting in a portable espresso bar that can serve customers outside. The espresso bar will allow customers to keep their entire experience outside if they don't feel comfortable going inside the shop.
Martinez says his customer base is diverse in terms of age but notes his older customers don't seem comfortable entering the coffeehouse. "Having an outdoor option will help them feel more secure and safe," he says.
He is optimistic the outdoor seating will help make up the loss of revenue his business has suffered, which he says is about half of what it once was this time last year. And, he notes, the improvement in space outside will aid the whole team.
"This will help our employees with more hours," he says. "More everything, more opportunity, making more money."
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