Restaurants weigh options as dine-in partially reopens


To reopen, or not to reopen. That is the question.

Following Gov. Eric Holcomb’s “Back on Track Indiana” plan, restaurants across the state are permitted to resume dining room seating at 50% capacity beginning Monday. Locally, some establishments are eager to bring patrons back inside. Others are opting to wait a while longer.

The Herald reached out to representatives from a handful of Dubois County restaurants for this story to get a sampling of how the new guidelines will affect their businesses.

In Jasper, the Schnitzelbank Restaurant will follow the state’s new regulations and partially open its dining space. A post on the popular German eatery’s Facebook page shares that the staff is ready and eager to serve.

Once inside, patrons will notice things are a little different. A maximum of six guests will be seated at one table, and those tables will be spaced six feet apart from each other. Customers won’t wait in the lobby to be seated — they will be met by an employee outside who will usher them in.

One of the business’ main draws, its signature salad bar, will remain closed. Kim Voegerl, the marketing and sales coordinator for the Schnitzelbank, explained Thursday that the staff is “trying to come up with a creative way of bringing those salad bar goodies to our guests,” possibly in a cafeteria-style way.

“This is going to be tough for everybody,” Voegerl said. “We fellow restaurants are trying to stick together and kind of learn off each other, and get their input.”

Curbside service will continue to be offered, and Voegerl noted that the restaurant will keep evolving into the next phases of the governor’s guidelines. Reservations aren’t required, but are encouraged.

In Ireland, the Chicken Place will also follow the reopening plan and bring customers back into the joint on Monday. Chris Himsel, the restaurant’s owner, explained that staff has scrubbed the building “from head to toe” over the past couple weeks.

“We’re prepared as we can be,” he said. “I’m blessed with a great staff. Many of them have been here a long time — my oldest has been here 52 years. So, everybody does their part, pitches in, and is willing to do what we can to keep it going.”

Social distancing will also be practiced when the Chicken Place’s doors open at 4 p.m. The staff had previously been utilizing carryout and will continue to do so.

Nick Hostetter, owner of Azura Grill & Cafe in Jasper, was ready to relaunch his in-house dining after hearing the governor’s comments last week. Now, however, he’s not so sure.

“Immediately, I was like, ‘OK, good, I’m ready to get moving,’” he said Thursday. “But honestly, now I’m kind of dragging my feet a little and debating whether we might stay closed an extra week or so just to see how things fall out.”

The change of heart was sparked by employee conversations and a trend he’d noticed of other area restaurants waiting to relaunch their dining operations. It’s also a challenge, he said, to figure out how to “make it all work” given the capacity limit.

Azura closed temporarily at the beginning of March but has been operating by drive-thru and delivery services in recent weeks. Those options will continue while leadership debates when to partially reopen its dining room.

In Ferdinand, Oasis Bar & Grill will continue offering curbside service, but will not open its dining room on Monday. It will be decided in the near future when and how in-house dining will again become an option.

After hearing Holcomb’s reopening timeline, John Songer, owner of the Gaslight Pizza & Grill in Huntingburg, formulated his own.

“My timeline right now is that we are going to continue with carryout for at least the next two weeks,” Songer explained. “I won’t make a decision on opening up to the 50% dine-in probably until the week of the 18th. And so, if things look better to me by then, then I will consider actually opening up the 50% dine-in starting the week of the 25th.”

Songer explained that he is remodeling the building that houses his pizza place and sports bar, and he wants to wait and see how everything shakes out with the initial return.

“If anything is going to spike or re-spike in the short term, we’re going to have a pretty firm answer within the next two to three weeks, if that’s going to actually happen,” Songer said of a potential surge in coronavirus cases.

Midwest Cafe & Market in Jasper plans to keep its dining facilities closed until July 6. Owner Landy Gabhart explained that the majority of the restaurant’s business comes from carryout. Delivery services are also offered.

“We just don’t want it to get too congested in here to where people begin to feel uncomfortable coming in,” she said, later adding that delivery is being promoted to keep people at home as much as possible.

While restaurants can partially reopen next week, bars and bar seating will remain closed. Per Holcomb’s plan, restaurants would be allowed to open to 75% capacity on June 14.

Bar seating at restaurants will also be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity at that time, with social distancing required. Bars and nightclubs, too, will also have the option to open at half capacity beginning June 14.

On July 4, restaurants and bar seating, as well as bars and nightclubs are all allowed to reopen at full capacity.

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