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Orange County chefs, restaurant owners mixed on reopening plans

Orange County’s restaurants have taken a significant hit during the coronavirus pandemic, so the natural assumption might be that all of their chefs and owners will reopen as soon as possible now that the state allowed it.

Not necessarily.

Some opened their doors soon after word came down from county officials Saturday – and, yes, there were some that had been open without permission before that. Others hope to welcome dine-in guests later this week. But some are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Staffing is a major issue for some; furloughed or laid-off staffers have to be recalled. So is stocking up if they cut back on their supply orders while closed or serving limited take-out menus. And, of course, they need to take needed safety precautions.

The Orange County Register heard from several on the OC restaurant scene. Here’s what they had to say Saturday:

Chef Amar Santana, who runs Broadway in Laguna Beach, and Vaca and The Hall Global Eatery in Costa Mesa with business partner Ahmed Labbate, doesn’t plan to reopen soon: “I am actually going to wait and see how it is going to go for other people. We are being very careful with the pandemic. It’s going to be hard to reopen. I just want to see how restaurants would be able to control the spread of virus, staff both and back of the house that you haven’t seen for three months. Are they OK? Do they have the virus? There are so many questions, etc., We’d rather wait.”

Old Brea Chop House owner Tony Fasulo said he hopes to reopen later this week: “The space for The Chop House was built and meant for a steakhouse that this city so greatly needed. When I was brought in to conceptualize what the feel and concept would be, my passion for the project was geared toward the people. That includes our guests but our staff as well, we are 100% ‘people first.’ When we were shut down my heart went out to our team. Our loyal clientele generously supported us through each and every week. I am beyond grateful for the support and look forward to a grand reopening but keeping everyone safe and healthy.”

Chef Florent Marneau runs Marché Moderne in Newport Beach with his wife Amelia and sees financial challenges to reopening: “What I think these lawmakers might not realize is the funds required to bring our entire staff back, both our kitchen team and front-of-house team, with no guarantee of having enough business – that’s the crucial question. Will enough guests come to justify those costs? We want to really take all those concerns into consideration before we can reopen.”

Max Schlutz, chef and partner at Sessions West Coast Deli with locations in Newport Beach, Irvine and Huntington Beach, says it’s more important to open safely than quickly: “We couldn’t be more excited to expand on our current level of hospitality and service, both of which are at the heart of what Sessions is all about. We thrive on guest connection — it’s how we’ve built our brand. For us, it’s not a race, we want to open safely. We’ve already taken the steps to not only meet, but exceed dine-in guidelines — from increased training, additional focus on safety and sanitizer stations, to being in the process of installing plexiglass barriers at the register, social distancing markers on the ground, and custom masks for our team.”

Rob Wilson, the chef-owner of Glasspar in Dana Point, talked about maintaining a connection while being safe: “In addition to ensuring the safety of our guests and staff, it is important to me to foster the connection that is created between them. It’s important to us to be able to convey to our guests how genuinely happy we are to see them, while ensuring both their safety and the safety of our staff. These clear face shields and masks allow us to continue to welcome and serve guests with a smile, while meeting all the safety requirements set forth by the state.”

Lee Maen, a partner at Innovative Dining Group, discussed plans for Sushi Roku in Newport Beach: “While we’ve been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from loyal guests who have ordered takeout from us over the past two months, we are very excited to reopen our doors and enjoy their company once again. As always, the safety of our team and guests is of utmost importance to us, so we will be following state and local guidelines for restaurant service as we plan to reopen our dining room and patio at Fashion Island.”

Scarlet Kitchen & Lounge in Rancho Mission Viejo opened in January, and chef-owner Paige Riordan is eager to reopen the restaurant’s doors. A June 2 reopening is planned. “The ability to reopen is monumental for our team! While we’ve been eagerly awaiting the ability to welcome guests back into our dining room for over two months, we are in no way rushing to reopen. We will take the next week to reconfigure the restaurant to meet necessary guidance set forth by the State and take the time train our staff on our new safety protocols.”

Source: Orange County Register

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