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Sunday, September 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane-area restaurants make decision to exercise more caution, temporarily close amid increase in COVID-19 cases

UPDATED: Mon., July 6, 2020

Remedy general manager Joey Gates stands among the picnic tables on the patio July 4 on the South Hill.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Remedy general manager Joey Gates stands among the picnic tables on the patio July 4 on the South Hill. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

As the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Spokane County, some local restaurants are opting to temporarily close, while others are exercising additional caution to remain open.

Churchill’s Steakhouse owner Bill Alles has been following Spokane Regional Health District’s COVID-19 data on a daily basis and made the decision to close out of caution June 28 based on a rise in cases within the county. The restaurant has not had any cases linked to it.

For a while, coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the county involved seven to eight people, but that number spiked about two weeks ago. That caused concern, Alles said.

“When I saw the age range of people who were getting the disease – a lot of those folks in that age range happen to be people who work for me,” he said, adding that some of his customers fall into the high-risk group of people who could experience severe complications if they contracted the virus.

It’s the second time that Churchill’s has temporarily closed since the pandemic took hold in the state in mid-March. The impact of COVID-19 has been devastating for the restaurant, which initially reopened in June. It had been selling steaks online during the closure and obtained a Paycheck Protection Program loan, but revenue dropped by more than $800,000 as a result of the pandemic, and PPP funding is nearing depletion, Alles said.

Prior to the temporary closure, Churchill’s was following the state’s guidelines to ensure safety. Alles removed chairs and spaced out tables to maintain distancing, provided hand sanitizer to every table and disinfected tables before and after guests dined. Employees wore masks and gloves, and underwent temperature checks before shifts.

But, Alles said, in order to reopen again, he needs to see a reduction in the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in the county.

Inland Pacific Kitchen and Hogwash Whiskey Den also voluntarily closed dine-in and takeout service because of an increase in area COVID-19 cases, said Darby McKee, who co-owns the restaurants with wife, Jovanka.

“We met with the team of chefs and servers. They have family members they don’t want to expose (to COVID-19), as well with the numbers going up, it didn’t seem like the right thing to do,” McKee said, referring to keeping the restaurants open.

The restaurants may begin to offer takeout service again if the number of cases decrease in the county, McKee said, adding that he will re-evaluate that decision later this week.

“If people are wearing masks and the (COVID-19) numbers come down, we’ll reopen again,” he said.

McKee said it’s been challenging to navigate restaurant operations during the pandemic.

“The hardest thing for me as an owner is balancing the economic side of keeping my team being paid and employed so they can be OK, but also the risk side of having to interact in this environment,” McKee added, noting he wants to ensure safety of employees and customers.

Other restaurants that have temporarily closed out of caution include Method Juice Cafe, Heritage Bar & Kitchen and Central Food. The Scoop ice cream parlor made a decision to revert back to contactless pickup at its Kendall Yards and South Hill locations.

The temporary closures come as the Spokane County Regional Health District confirmed last week that 46 COVID-19 cases were linked to Borracho Tacos & Tequileria, which has also closed voluntarily.

“After conversations with our staff and Spokane Regional Health Department, we have decided to voluntarily and temporarily close our doors to ensure the safety of our customers and team. We do not make this decision lightly as we have worked tirelessly to implement state and county guidelines to operate our business safely. However, we believe it is important to take every possible precaution especially during this recent increase in Covid-19 cases in Spokane,” Borracho Tacos & Tequileria wrote in a Facebook post on June 26. “We love and appreciate our community, which is why we have chosen to move forward in this way. We continue to encourage our staff and the Spokane community to be diligent about being tested and practicing proper social distancing. We look forward to welcoming our amazing customers and staff back as soon as we can better ensure everyone’s safety as well as an incredible food and beverage experience.”

Garageland in downtown Spokane and The Two Seven on the South Hill closed after reports of confirmed COVID-19 cases among employees or customers.

Garageland reported via Facebook that one of its employees and three customers tested positive for the virus. The restaurant – which advised customers who visited the establishment to get tested, wear masks and stop bar-hopping – remains temporarily closed until further notice.

When reached by phone, The Two Seven referred The Spokesman-Review to its Facebook statement.

“Unfortunately, we were informed today that we have an employee that has tested positive for COVID-19. Because of this we have decided to close the Two Seven until further notice to ensure the safety of our employees and guests,” The Two Seven said in the Facebook statement. “This employee did not contract COVID-19 while working at the Two Seven and the last time this employee worked was on Thursday, June 25 in the evening and was not symptomatic at that time. This employee is now at home, self-quarantining. We are currently waiting on our other employees’ test results and hope to re-open as soon as we get those results and we feel it is safe to do so.”

After employees at Remedy Kitchen and Tavern on the South Hill became concerned they may have come into contact with another employee who tested positive for the virus, but had not been in the building for several days, it temporarily shut down last week to allow for COVID-19 testing.

“Fortunately for us, all employees’ tests came back negative, so we were lucky there,” owner Matt Goodwin, said, referring to the group of employees who chose to undergo COVID-19 testing.

Remedy has since reopened and is going above and beyond Phase 2 guidelines to remain in operation, Goodwin said, adding employees are required to wear masks and get temperature checks, among other things.

“We are following all the guidelines and employees are taking it very seriously,” Goodwin said. “As long as our employees feel safe, we’ll remain open.”

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