Summer dining in Santa Cruz will look different from years past, but local restaurateurs are cautiously optimistic about resuming dine-in service after more than two months of dealing with massive changes.
State and local shelter-in-place orders had prohibited dine-in service starting in mid-March. The opportunity to offer anything besides takeout and delivery came on May 30, when the state gave Santa Cruz County clearance to allow dining in, as long as restaurants follow state guidance.
Dine-in service resumed on June 2 at the Crepe Place on Soquel Avenue, a popular spot for people to enjoy live music and outdoor dining in the back patio and garden area.
The response has been good, says Chuck Platt, owner of The Crepe Place.
“We were happy with people telling us that they felt safe in the back patio at the restaurant,” Platt says.
Tables at The Crepe Place are now spaced seven feet apart, and there are designated areas for patrons to pass each other throughout the restaurant while keeping at least six feet of distance. The restaurant’s overall capacity has been reduced by about 25%, Platt says. Customers also get a full rundown when they come to the restaurant, including the request that they wear a face covering when not eating or drinking, per state guidance. Though some people have seemed surprised that they have to wear a mask to go inside, everyone has been understanding about following the rules, Platt says.
Zach Davis, co-founder and co-owner of The Glass Jar, has observed the same understanding from customers so far. The Santa Cruz restaurant group includes The Picnic Basket, Snap Taco, and The Penny Ice Creamery’s two locations. After being temporarily closed at the start of the shelter-in-place orders, all of the group’s locations reopened for takeout. Everybody has been respectful of social distancing and other guidelines in place for health and safety, Davis says.
As for what summer holds, Davis and the team are taking it day by day as they track health requirements and recommendations from the federal, state and local levels.
“Our operations will definitely continue to adjust. We’re not rushing into reopening anything,” Davis says. “There’s a lot of material that we have to sift through and synthesize into a plan that we feel comfortable with,” he adds.
The restaurant group’s decisions this summer will depend in part on customers’ attitudes, Davis says.
“If we feel like people, for whatever reason, are choosing not to respect the implementation of these guidelines, which in many cases are backed by law … then it’s going to be hard for us to expand the level to which we’re open,” Davis says.
For restaurants like India Joze on Front Street in downtown Santa Cruz, their small size presents a challenge for determining how to safely proceed. If a lot of people show up, they may have to only offer takeout to ensure the health of their staff and the public, says Jozseph Schultz, founder and chef at India Joze. They will take baby steps by offering outdoor seating and keeping the online takeout ordering they put in place, Schultz says. Online ordering comes with its own challenges, though, he notes, since they can be inundated with 20 orders in the space of one minute.
Some restaurateurs are now looking excitedly at how they could safely expand capacity with new outdoor dining options being opened up by local governments.
Santa Cruz County, the city of Santa Cruz, and the city of Capitola all made allowances starting this month for outdoor dining. Santa Cruz County is letting businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county apply for temporary permits that would allow them to expand into adjacent parking lots to provide food service.
The city of Santa Cruz’s plan includes temporarily closing off vehicle and bicycle traffic on the 1100 block of Pacific Avenue downtown, between Lincoln and Cathcart streets, so the street can be used for pedestrian traffic and commerce including dining.
The Crow’s Nest, a bustling spot overlooking the Santa Cruz Harbor, may explore adding dining spots in the parking lot to help spread people out, says Charles Maier, proprietor of the restaurant.
The Crow’s Nest reopened for dine-in service on June 2 and has already seen a good response, he says.
“People are just coming in and happy to be able to go out and enjoy themselves outside of their home,” he says.
They’ve taken out some of the tables and are using signs to ensure people keep proper distance throughout the restaurant’s indoor and outdoor space. The capacity has been reduced by about half or less in different parts of the multi-level restaurant.
The Crow’s Nest usually employs around 200-300 people, depending on the time of year, so finding ways to safely expand capacity also means being able to keep supporting more employees and their families, Maier says.
“You try to make the right decisions as you go,” he says, “and hopefully they work out.”
Read our full summer preview coverage.