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News >  Spokane

As restaurants open for last day of normal operations, a sense of confusion and dread sets in

UPDATED: Mon., March 16, 2020

Joile Forral, owner of Bruncheonette near the Spokane County Courthouse, had an empty seating area mid-morning, Monday, March 16, 2020, when normally it would be nearly full. Gov. Jay Inslee ordered Washington restaurants and bars closed to fight the COVID-19. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Joile Forral, owner of Bruncheonette near the Spokane County Courthouse, had an empty seating area mid-morning, Monday, March 16, 2020, when normally it would be nearly full. Gov. Jay Inslee ordered Washington restaurants and bars closed to fight the COVID-19. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver and Emma Epperly The Spokesman-Review

There were empty parking lots and empty tables at restaurants all over town Monday, but that didn’t stop Jim McGuire and his wife, Jeri, from going to their regular spot, Shari’s restaurant on North Division Street. Though Jim McGuire is 79 and his wife is 77, both said they’re not worried about getting sick.

“We like to eat out,” Jeri McGuire said. “I guess we’ll have to stay home and cook. It’s going to be a whole new world.”

The morning after Gov. Jay Inslee announced all restaurants, bars, recreation and entertainment facilities must close and instead offer only take-out orders, restaurant workers and owners were scrambling to figure out how to move forward under unprecedented circumstances.

At the Swinging Doors on Francis Avenue, there was a lot of uncertainty. The sports bar and restaurant will offer takeout and delivery through Grub Hub and Uber Eats, but kitchen manager Jeremy Kight said he doesn’t know how much food to order because he doesn’t know what the demand will be.

“That’s a huge question mark,” he said. “We’re gong to do that for this week and see how it goes.”

There’s plenty of Irish stew, corned beef and cabbage and Irish breakfasts on hand, since the restaurant stocked up for St. Patrick’s Day. People can also order growlers, kegs of beer and bottles of wine. They plan to offer a full menu to start, but may scale that back later, Kight said. Right now, they’re well-stocked.

“We had a decent weekend, but it was probably less than half a normal St. Patrick’s Day weekend,” he said.

There were only about a dozen customers on hand Monday morning when there normally would be 30 or 40, Kight said.

Owner Bob Materne said he thinks it’s important to stay open for takeout orders.

“We want to show our community and our employees that we support them as much as we can,” he said. “We’ve been here for 39 years. I’m very proud of what we have.”

Waitress Julie Gray was sanitizing menus in addition to waiting on customers. She said she’s worried, not just for herself but for the economy as a whole. “I’m extremely worried about the trickle-down effect on the whole economy,” she said.

Gray said she doesn’t know what she’ll do without the tips she normally earns. “Us servers pay our bills with tips,” she said. “I’m extremely worried, but we’re all in this together. I’m trying really hard to have a good attitude.”

Tom Ritchie owns the Milk Bottle restaurant in the Garland District. He didn’t open his doors on Monday because he thought the governor’s order took effect when the governor signed it. His wife and daughter were there as he made a few to-go orders on the grill.

“I’m worried about staying afloat,” said Ritchie. “We’re a local small business.”

The couple are unsure there will be enough takeout business to keep them going. He offers delivery through Uber Eats and Door Dash, and he’s considering having his wife deliver orders to the Garland Neighborhood.

There are eight employees who work at the restaurant, but they’ve all been laid off until it becomes clear if there will be enough to-go orders to call them back, said Kiersten Ritchie. “We don’t know if we’re going to be busy enough,” she said.

“It’s hurting my employees,” Tom Ritchie said.

The parking lot of Frank’s Diner downtown was empty Monday morning.

Inside the old-fashion train car, a few people sat waiting for breakfast.

Nathan Mueller was staffing the counter just like he has for the past six and a half years.

“I’m just kind of rolling with the punches,” Mueller said of the upcoming closure.

Mueller said he thought Inslee’s mandate was part of a domino effect led by other states like Illinois and Ohio that announced restaurant shutdowns earlier in the day Sunday.

“It’s been pretty quiet this morning,” Mueller said.

The proclamation issued late Sunday night mandated the closure of all restaurants, bars, entertainment and recreational facilities as of 12:01 a.m. Tuesday

Joile Forrall sat in her empty restaurant, Bruncheonette, Monday morning. The usually busy breakfast spot known for its dishes made from scratch had only served one meal in the first two hours after opening.

“It was just kind of a big blow to get the news so late in the evening,” Forrall said of the mandate.

She employs 14 people who immediately started asking her questions about what the restaurant shutdown would mean for their jobs.

“My staff wants answers, and I don’t have answers because there are no answers,” Forrall said.

Questions about unemployment, how long the closure will last and if other types of relief for restaurant workers will be available were being asked in rapid succession, Forrall said.

While some local restaurants are offering takeout, that’s not an option for Forrall.

“It’s breakfast – like eggs don’t travel,” Forrall said.

Asked if there was anything the community could do to help, Forrall said maybe buy a gift card to use at a later date but otherwise there’s nothing to be done.

At Indaba Coffee Roasters on Broadway Avenue, plants blocked off the seating area as baristas told customers they were only offering to-go service.

Meghan Waybright, who has worked at the coffee shop for about a year and a half, said she was in low spirits this morning.

Her boss went over how to explain to customers that they would only be offering coffee and pastries. The shop opted, a day early, to stop allowing customers to sit and stay.

Waybright said the early-morning coffee crowd was small Monday morning. The shop normally has a lot of “cafe sitters” who stay for hours, Waybright said.

While that portion of their business is gone temporarily, Waybright said she thinks people will get antsy in a few days and want to get out of their homes.

Management for the Garland Theater and Bon Bon bar opted not to open Monday after Inslee made the announcement.. The theater said on social media that annual pass holders will receive an extension for however long the business is shuttered.

Garland General Manager Jasmine Barnes said the theater already had low attendance in recent weeks, likely due to public health guidelines about public gatherings. And Barnes said only about 120 people attended the annual St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl at Bon Bon and other Garland District bars, which has had more than 500 attendees in years past.

“There was the ban on (gatherings of) 250 or more but we knew given the (weather and public health) conditions we weren’t going to have that,” Barnes said about the pub crawl. “But we wanted to have a fun Saturday outing for St. Paddy’s Day.”

The theater and bar have about 14 employees between the establishments, Barnes said. She said supervisors plan to organize cleaning and other tasks for staff to earn some wages, hopefully lessening the blow to their paychecks during the next few weeks. The businesses also supplied employees with information about financial resources available to them during the closure.

The 500-seat theater has 1,200 cup holders that need deep cleaning, in addition to other frequently touched surfaces, Barnes said. The theater could also get a fresh coat of paint.

Once bars, restaurants and other venues are back open, Barnes said she hopes community members will flock to small businesses recovering from prolonged closures.

“Our biggest concern is our employees’ financial well-being,” Barnes said. “I am pretty confident about the future of the theater.”

Barnes added that she hopes people “take social distancing seriously because it will help all the business reopen in a timely fashion.”

Reporter Jared Brown contributed to this report.

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