TACOMA, Wash. — Many restaurants in the Puget Sound region are once again allowed to invite customers to dine indoors in a limited capacity under Gov. Jay Inslee’s "Healthy Washington" reopening plan.
Last week, seven counties in western Washington were approved to advance to Phase 2 of reopening, based on metrics that included decreasing COVID-19 cases and hospital admission rates.
Natural Allah has been working overtime to get ready.
Allah and his partner, Christina Hernandez, are the owners of Essence Lounge in downtown Tacoma, and have been trying to prepare their dining room for customers after months of operating at reduced capacity.
Allah says it’s been a challenge keeping the restaurant going with no staff, and just takeout.
“Our menu was very large, and we had to condense it, because of letting staff go, and it was just myself and Shawn and Christina here, so we had to condense it so it much smaller and more manageable for the kitchen.”
Now that the state is allowing Essence to open its dining room, the restaurant owners should be able to breathe a sigh of relief.
However, Allah is now concerned that finding workers may be harder than they thought.
“There’s a lot of ambiguity, simply because if they come back to work, how is it going to be if the numbers go back up and the governor says, ‘Hey, we’re going back to Phase 1,” he said. “So that means of course many businesses such as ours are going to have to let go our workers again.”
A return to Phase 1 would be devastating for small businesses, many of whom Allah said simply weren’t able to survive the first round of Phase 1.
“It took the power away from small businesses to be able to operate. Many of the small businesses here and various other places have gone out of business because there was just no way for them to continue.”
Inslee warned that if COVID-19 numbers begin to climb returning to Phase 1 is a possibility, which means a return to carry-out and delivery only for restaurants across Washington.
That would mean scenes like this may not last as long as owners hope, and if that happens, small businesses like Essence will feel it the most.
But for now, Allah is working to make the most of the situation while he can.
“We’re all just eager to get back to work and do what we do.”