ATLANTA (Reuters) - Brian Mancuso unlocked the glass doors of his downtown Atlanta restaurant for the first time in a month on Monday morning, placed a placard with a cartoon pig and the daily specials out front and waited on the lunch crowd to come inside.
“We’ve finally come back,” he said about an hour into his lunch run with the first sit-down customers allowed since late March at Moe’s Original BBQ, for some pulled-pork sandwiches near the Georgia Tech campus.
In midtown Atlanta, Brian Maloof, owner of Manuel’s Tavern, said he won’t open yet and probably not for a good while. “It’s not safe,” he declared. “I don’t know when we’ll open, but I’m afraid it won’t be anytime soon. It’s tough. But we can’t do it.”
Georgia on Monday allowed restaurants across the state to offer dine-in service, easing the stay-at-home restrictions put in place to help fight the new coronavirus pandemic sweeping the nation and the world.
In a push to kick-start its battered economy, and despite warnings from health experts, Georgia joined a handful of states from Montana to Mississippi that are set to reopen businesses previously deemed to be nonessential.
“I don’t know if this is a big step to normal, but at least it’s something,” Mancuso said of just a trickle of lunch customers coming into Moe’s.
A list of 39 new rules include taking every worker’s temperature at the beginning of their shifts, asking them a series of health questions such as, “Do you have a cough?” and limiting customers to no more than 10 people per 500 square feet of dining space.
Mancuso had to lay off all but three of his 20 employees when he was doing only take-out under the shut-down orders, but plans to bring them all back as business picks up. It has been a slow start with Georgia Tech closed and most employees of businesses in the area working from home.
East of Atlanta in downtown Decatur on Monday afternoon, sisters Jackie Jones, 64, and Terri Jones, 59, sat down at Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar for lunch.
“I’m a good cook,” Jacki Jones said. “We originally from Birmingham (Alabama), so you know I have to be a good cook. But I’m just tired of it. We’re getting bug crazy a bit. We had to get out.”
Terri added: “What I really wanted was to sit down and have a margarita with my food.”
Both had protective masks around their necks, and they used them to cover their faces before talking to a waitress or anyone else.
“We’re not worried about coming to a restaurant,” Jacki Jones said. “They’ve closed half the tables, no one you don’t know sits near you, and all their staff has masks and gloves. I feel all right about that.”
Bad Daddy’s general manager, Julian Douglas, 47, said only half of his usual 50 staffers are coming back this week, all on part-time for now.
“It’ll take a little time to build up, get the word out,” Douglas said.
All the employees wear masks and gloves, spray tables down with a bleach solution between customers and change gloves often. Bathrooms get scrubbed every 30 minutes.
Terri Jones said she and her sister both want their hair done at a proper salon. Hair salons, along with tattoo parlors, gyms, bowling alleys and massage parlors, were also given the green light to open in Georgia.
“I know they opened, too,” she said. “But that’s a big difference. They get real close and have to touch. I don’t think we can do that yet.”
Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler