Bars and restaurants welcome customers back Monday

Customers trickled in to their their favorite bars and restaurants Monday after 12 weeks of Gov. Whitmer's stay-at-home order

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

After a dozen weeks of empty dining rooms, carryout-only service and new social distancing and safety measures because of the coronavirus pandemic, many restaurants and bars in Metro Detroit were ready to reunite with customers Monday. 

“It’s a blessing that we are able to open,” Linda Donar, owner of the Eastpointe Pub on Nine Mile near Interstate 94. “And it’s exciting to see people back and people healthy.”

Donar also said she is amazed she was able to support herself after the pandemic prompted the governor to order businesses like hers to shutter their doors to combat the spread of the coronavirus. “We got no help in any shape or form from the government,” she said.

Linda Donar, owner of the Eastpointe Pub on Nine Mile near Interstate 94 in Eastpointe, said it was "a blessing" she could open her business Monday, June 8.

The Eastpointe Pub opened its doors at 7 a.m. Monday. Donar said it was already half full by 7:10.

Due to public safety guidelines, the bar has cut its capacity from 68 to 34 people, she added.

“I’ve been telling people, ‘if you don’t have a chair, you can’t be here,’” Donar said. “It’s like musical chairs. If you have a chair, then you’re safe.”

The bar has 32 chairs out for its patrons and the capacity limit includes her and the bartender, she explained. Donar wanted to put up a large tent in her parking lot to accommodate more people, but she couldn’t get permission from the city in time to open Monday.

So far, everyone has been patient and understanding with the restrictions and rules, Donar said.

Server Megan Daniels brings out lunch for David Gennero, Isabella Gennero and Alexander Gennero of Royal Oak in the outside dining area of Zeoli's in Clawson.

After their shifts at a hospital ended early Monday morning, Janine Webber and Carrie Faller stopped by the Eastpointe Pub for a drink. Work was done by about 6:30 a.m. and they arrived at the bar at about 7 a.m.

“It’s very nice to be able to sit in a bar after working all night,” said Webber, 34, of Roseville, as she sat at one of the bar’s tables with a bottle of Stroh’s beer. “I’m not going to lie. I’ve been looking forward to this.”

As she enjoyed her rum and coke, Faller, 40, of St. Clair Shores, said “it’s just nice to be out” after only being at just work or home.

In Southwest Detroit around 9 a.m., just a few tables were filled at Taqueria El Nacimiento, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. The family-owned restaurant put thick Plexiglas between the booths, entrance doors were propped open and most employees were wearing masks and gloves. 

"It's weird seeing people here again," said owner Alvaro Padilla. "Overall it's a good thing that everything is coming back to normal as a country ... it's getting better."

Padilla said the restaurant kept busy making and delivering food to frontline workers. During the shutdown he also delivered food to some of their older customers and got to know them better, he said. 

While Monday morning was a slow start, Padilla had a positive outlook. 

"I think we'll be OK," he said. "I have hopes that we're going to be busy." 

Owners of fine dining restare also thinking positive, even though an oncoming shaky economy could affect them most of all. 

"I’m the forever optimist," said Samy Eid, whose family owns Phoencia and Forest in Birmingham and Leila in Detroit's Capitol Park. His Birmingham restaurants are reopening their dining rooms Tuesday. "People are afraid and there are a lot of unknowns." 

He says the next year is about survival. 

"We’re just trying to figure out how to survive, not thrive the next 12 months," said Eid, who has been in the restaurant business his whole life. "We’ll get to the other end of this and hopefully we’ll be in a good spot. It’s going to be hard. Lots of tough decisions."

In downtown Detroit, chef-driven hotspot Besa was one of the few white-tablecloth destinations that opened its doors Monday evening. They hit the ground running with a nearly full reservation book and a new menu. 

Still, half capacity means half the tickets. 

"What this has done is worse than anybody could imagine," said Eid. "This is going to be a long road back."

Party started at 12:01 a.m. 

The return of in-house service on Monday started with the late night crowd just after midnight Sunday night. Once the clock struck 12:01 a.m. Monday, some bars welcomed back regulars for a two-hour party before wrapping back up at the legal closing time of 2 a.m.

Customers return to Kozy Lounge in Hazel Park just after midnight Monday morning.

Hazel Park neighborhood pub Kozy Lounge has been serving bar burgers and other pub grub on a carryout basis for weeks, but were able to allow barflies to sit and enjoy drinks early Monday morning. Masks weren't required and hugs and handshakes were given freely. 

“It’s like Christmas, but better,” said Adam Williams of Hazel Park, who was reuniting with friends at the bar.

In neighboring Madison Heights, On the Rocks Bar and Grill owners David and Ivana Vojnoski were preparing to greet dine-in customers early Monday morning with new merchandise and a new patio. They printed On the Rocks face masks and virus-themed T-shirts that say "I Don't Have Corona I'm Just Hungover." 

"It's almost like a pre-reopening for all our regulars that missed us," said David Vojnoski, who traveled up north recently to do some research on how bars and restaurants dealt with social distancing. "We sanitized, cleaned everything, but we've been doing that because we've been open for carryouts."

"Don't give up on your local watering hole," he added, saying that with half capacity, they can only let in up to 50 guests at once. 

The Butter Run Saloon in St. Clair Shores was advertising a "midnight celebration," welcoming back customers to sit down and enjoy their renowned whiskey selection. 

Danny's Irish Pub in Ferndale allowed a few regular patrons in at midnight, so the staff had a chance to warm up to new safety guidelines before making their official debut Monday. The small Irish bar will have masks for sale for those who arrive without one, and will limit the barroom to 30 patrons. 

“We’re doing everything by the book,” said Danny’s bartender Brook Windorf of the bar’s safety measures, which requires customers to wear a mask when they aren’t in their seat. “It’s been so long, I was nervous about seeing everyone ... but us all being together again, it’s exciting.”

Ryan Charbonneau and Cindy Bell at Imperial restaurant, with movable plexiglass partitions on the tables in Ferndale.

According to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's order, bars and restaurants could reopen Monday with 50% capacity. Many restaurants have reached out to guests to let them know the new operating procedures involving sanitation, social distancing and wearing masks. 

Peas & Carrots Hospitality restaurant group — which includes Mex in Bloomfield Hills, Social Kitchen in Birmingham, Como's in Ferndale and others — posted a video to social media explaining the changes they've made. This includes an optional "disposable experience" with single-use menu, plates and flatware upon request. They also have "sanitation specialists" on board to keep the restaurant clean as guests travel in and out. 

"We wanted to get out and have some drinks on a patio," said Lisa Boyd, who was posted up on Como's deck facing Nine Mile and Woodward early Monday afternoon with her co-workers Sally Vidosn and Hope Ferschneider.

Lisa Hysko-Cuppetilli and Stephanie Schrack have lunch in the outside dining area of Mojave Cantina in Clawson.

The three live all over Oakland County but work together at Essential Massage Therapy in Ferndale, which is currently closed. They regularly visit bars in the area and planned to hop over to Imperial after Como's. 

"We talked about it last week, and were like, where are we going?," said Boyd, who was pleased they could get at table. "I was expecting more people, that there might be a line." 

Como's general manager Erin Lind said the think people were ordering most of on the sunny afternoon was cold draft beer. 

"They haven't been able to have it," said Lind. She said so far the day had gone smoothly. "I was expecting everyone to be excited, to be patient and very understanding and so far all the guests have been great."

Socially distant dining may stay for a while

Restaurant interior designer Kerry Gluckman of K. Evan Designs said changes like spaced out seating, barriers and more technology to create less staff-to-guest interaction are policies that will stay in place for the long term. He also predicts more places will offer grab-and-go and small markets to make up for the seating they can’t have due to social distancing.

"I think 'to-go' is here to stay for a while," he said. 

Gluckman — who has worked with many Michigan restaurants including Edo Ramen in Royal Oak and Zingerman's Roadhouse in Ann Arbor — says some of the more casual eateries leaning toward additional technology, like ordering via apps even while at the table, to lessen interaction between staff and guests.

Gluckman said he saw the industry morphing away from traditional operations for months, even before COVID-19 hit. 

"I think people are getting the idea of more casual service, almost a Culver’s model, you might order from the counter and have a food runner bring it to your table,” he said adding that guests and more casual restaurants will order through an app on their phone rather than reciting their order to a person. 

“Normally a booth back, unless it’s like a steakhouse, is 42 inches high," he said. Right now he’s working with a restaurant that is opting to have the booth backs reach 48 inches. “It’s more than that. There will be less tables, further apart, less staff to interact and maybe a move toward a more casual experience (where you) eat out quickly.”  

Keeping 6-foot social distancing in mind, the Shake Shack in Troy tapes off every other table in its indoor dining area.

Some restaurants are sticking to carryout 

While Monday and the rest of the week will certainly see a blitz of bar and restaurant reopenings, many food businesses will continue with carryout only or remain closed for various reasons.

The owners of two popular casual eateries Mudgie's Deli in Corktown and Loui's Pizza in Hazel Park both say they're not reopening their dining rooms because they don't feel it's safe yet. 

"I'm nervous for a second wave of sickness so I'm just being extra careful and opting to double down on the carryout," said Loui’s owner Nykolas Sulkiwskyj, adding that he feels fortunate because they have no landlord to answer to. They own the building and it's been paid off for years. 

Sadly, there are some that won't reopen at all, including New Order Coffee in Midtown, HopCat in Royal Oak and Table No. 2 in Detroit. The latter two are looking for new locations. 

More:Many, but not all, Detroit area restaurants and bars prepare to open Monday

More:Detroit-area restaurants make improvements during downtown

More:HopCat parent company files for bankruptcy, restaurants plan to open June 13

Twitter: @melodybaetens 

Reporter Charlie Ramirez contributed