On Friday, Portland restaurant owners began to reopen for dine-in service for the first time in months, after Gov. Kate Brown approved Multnomah County’s application to begin the reopening process. However, just because bartenders are shaking drinks and diners are eating onsite doesn’t mean dining out looks, or feels, anything like it did before. The weight of COVID-19 still hovers over dining areas, and restaurant and bar owners have been forced to adapt to both the government safety mandates and new service structures: Bar staff and servers began setting up tables on newly-opened patios, transforming parking lots and side-streets into outdoor dining spaces. Portland’s phase-one reopening weekend, then, was a mixed bag for the industry — some restaurants saw stellar numbers all weekend, while others noticed sales coming up short.
On the evening of June 11, Brown announced that the county would not reopen by Multnomah County officials’ proposed reopening date, June 12. The governor was responding to record-breaking spikes in confirmed COVID-19 cases around the state, which health officials couldn’t confidently explain at the time; testing rates have increased, but the percentage of positive cases has also increased in the last few weeks. On June 17, Brown announced the county could open a week late, despite the increase in new cases, with a new mandate: Residents of Multnomah County — as well as six others — would have to wear masks indoors starting June 24.
Kiauna Floyd, the owner of Fremont Italian restaurant Amalfi’s, had prepared to reopen on the 12th, holding off to accommodate the last-minute delay. Floyd opened up her outdoor dining area on Friday, celebrating with live music from Tahirah Memory, pizzas, and cocktails under a 23-table tent with a hand-washing station and multiple sanitizer stations. By the time the restaurant opened Friday, there was a line to get in. “The first night, we more than doubled our sales for a typical Friday evening, and we were able to do that outdoors and safely,” says Amalfi’s owner Kiauna Floyd. “The last week was just an absolute whirlwind.”
Dan Hart had similar turnout at his multiple bars around the Portland area, including Prost in North Portland and Bantam Tavern in Northwest Portland. During peak hours, hosts were turning people away, taking phone numbers and names to welcome people back in later. Hart says that the waits went as high as an hour to an hour and a half. “We knew there would be a lot of challenges, trying to communicate with people on how the waits were going to work, understanding the new protocols... We’re all shaking off our bartender rust, we haven’t been making drinks or serving for a few months,” Hart says. “People were very understanding, very patient, and stoked to be out. We weren’t really blindsided; we’ve been prepping for this for months.”
However, it doesn’t seem like crowds were a serious issue; most lines were spaced out, and on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, crowds were basically non-existent. Outdoor dining spaces visited by photographer Molly J. Smith maintained social distancing, though managers and owners at multiple locations described larger turnout at different points during the weekend. Garrett Benedict, the owner and chef at produce-heavy spot G-Love in Slabtown, said Friday business was at-capacity under the new guidelines, but Saturday was much slower — especially considering the rain. “Overall, the turnout seemed a little bit down from pre-shutdown,” Benedict says. “Obviously, it’s still early stages for the reopening, so I think that we’re seeing some of the effects of that.” Down the line, Benedict plans to re-introduce a happy hour from 2 to 5 p.m., with one seating nook set in a 1970s Volkswagen van.
However, some restaurants — Like Gado Gado and Jamaican Homestyle Cuisine — are just holding off for now, allowing customers who order takeout to eat on the patio, without any sort of formal service. “Because we still want service socially distant and safe, we don’t feel like we had the time to roll that out this week,” says Gado Gado co-owner Mariah Pisha-Duffly. A few people chose to eat their takeout on the patio, but generally it stayed pretty empty. Every once in a while, the Pisha-Dufflys would pop out to a customer eating outside, to check in. “We have utensils and sanitization tools, so there isn’t really any service out there yet,” she says. “Just that feeling of asking people how everything was going, those little tiny touches that reminded us of regular service, felt really really nice.”
Below, take a look at some of the scenes from Portland’s first weekend in phase-one reopening: