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Woodworkers see surge in business due to demand for outdoor restaurant seating

With indoor seating limited or not an option because of the COVID-19 pandemic, restaurants are serving people outside to keep their businesses afloat.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The pandemic has forced people to be creative and pivot their business in a different direction just to stay afloat. Restaurants have to take advantage of this warm weather as much as they can by serving people outside because they don't know what kind of weather fall will bring.

As restaurants are pivoting, so are craftsmen like Danridge Geiger, who lately has been forced to think more critically versus creatively.

"We were freaking out," Geiger said. "How are things going to be? What does the future look like?"

Geiger is a woodworker, making furniture and cabinetry under the name Context Woodworking. His business uses mostly Oregon and Northwest-grown wood.

Credit: KGW
Danridge Geiger of Context Woodworking stands next to some of the furniture pieces he's built in his new, large warehouse space in Milwaukie, Ore.

Prior to the pandemic, Geiger's business was growing. He was working with restaurants to create beautiful wood bars, seating and installations. Business was lining up so well, he needed more room to work, so he rented a large commercial warehouse space in Milwaukie.

"This space was about moving into a larger scale of production for doing restaurant work, fixtures built-ins, etc.," Geiger said. "And that's just changed. You know, there was probably four projects that were going to go forward. They have stopped, and a lot of other people in this shop are facing the same thing, that their bread-and-butter, daily kind of stuff is sort of dried up."

Credit: KGW
The outdoor seating deck built in front of Paadee and Langbaan restaurants in Portland, Ore.

Here's where Geiger's pivot comes in. It can be seen at East Burnside Street and Northeast 28th Avenue in Portland, outside the Thai sister-restaurants of Paadee and Langbaan.

Langbaan is one of the city's fine dining darlings, where reservations are normally six months out with a prix fixe menu. The space seats 24 diners in an intimate space that can be reached through a secret back door that Geiger built inside Paadee.

Now, all that intimacy is a COVID no-no. Langbaan had to go outside, where it offers walk-up seating and customers can order small plates of whatever and however much you want from both restaurants' menus.

"I took it as basically opening a new restaurant out on the sidewalk," Geiger said of the order to build an outdoor seating deck. "So that for me was like, this is not just a temporary deck that you just throw together with some cinder blocks. I wanted to make a space that is on the level with the food and the cuisine and the sort of reputation they established."

Credit: KGW
The outdoor seating deck at Langbaan on East Burnside Street and Southeast 28th Avenue in Portland, Ore. has plant boxes, shade tents and ramps.

Geiger completed the outdoor deck project in four days, standing in the street with a circular saw, drills and a level. It has a ramp up from the sidewalk, seating, flower beds and shade tents. Incredible outdoor seating decks are popping up across the city thanks to Portland's "Healthy Businesses" permit that allows free takeover of sidewalks, parking spaces and streets to keep commerce going through the pandemic.

The healthy businesses permit is schedule to end Nov. 1 and nobody knows what life will bring then. Geiger has been doing more and will ride this wave of outdoor seating jobs for as long as it lasts.

"I think it's just resilience and ingenuity," he said of working to keep his business running during the pandemic.

The hope is that the virus is dwindling by November and Oregon can move into further phases of re-opening, allowing restaurants to fit more customers safely indoors when the weather turns cold and wet.

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