After nearly seven weeks of a regional coronavirus stay-at-home order, Santa Barbara County restaurants on Tuesday will once again be able to serve patrons on site, rather than sending them away with to-go orders.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the stay-at-home order on Monday, which will allow restaurants to reopen with modified outdoor services.
The statewide order was put into place in early December in an effort to curb the state’s surge in COVID-19 cases.
Yona Estrada, owner of YonaRedz on the 500 block of State Street, told Noozhawk he will serve diners at his restaurant’s outdoor seating area on Tuesday, while following COVID-19 guidelines of maintaining social distancing, mask-wearing and separating the individual tables, among other protocols.
“I’m excited about it,” Estrada said. “I can’t wait to have my tables out, and have my customers enjoy the meals that I serve fresh off of the grill. I can’t wait to see the vibrant State Street go back to its normality.”
He noted that eating a meal on-site at a restaurant is far better than consuming the same food off-premises.
“The whole experience of ordering food is better when you eat it there than when you take it home,” Estrada said. “It’s a different experience when you eat there.”
Some restaurants are barely surviving amid ever-changing restrictions during the COVID-19 crisis, and allowing this hard-hit industry to reopen for outdoor services will help boost food and beverage sales and grow the restaurant community’s workforce.
Following weeks of uncertainty, shifting to outdoor dining set-ups will be a game change for several local restaurants.
“It’s going to change everything for all of us because, around my area, some places are completely closed down,” Estrada said. “That hurt everybody in that block because people that would go to bars would also come into our restaurant to grab food.”
Brandon Ristaino, who has 20-plus years of experience in hospitality, bartending and management, welcomed the reopening decision.
Newsom’s decision is good news for the local hospitality industry, said Ristaino.
Ristaino and his wife, Misty, are the co-owners of three cocktail bars in Santa Barbara — Good Lion on the 1200 block of State St.; Test Pilot located in the Funk Zone; and Shaker Mill, a cocktail bar and eatery on the 400 block of State Street.
“We furloughed our team of 42 staff members in early December, and five of our businesses have been mandated to be closed by the governor for a total of 117 days,” Ristaino told Noozhawk. “This closure of outdoor dining and drinking has been done in the absence of any supporting data or scientific study of substance that shows a strong correlation between outdoor dining and drinking and a spread of COVID.”
State officials announced the lifting California’s regional stay-at-home order less than 12 hours after information had become known to some restaurant owners that the governor’s office was planning it.
Monday’s announcement is a sudden and unexpected change of policy from the governor, Ristaino said.
“It will take our company 3-5 days to prepare for a safe reopening, and we intend to do so this upcoming Saturday,” Ristaino said. “We will continue to adhere to the most recent COVID safety measures, and will continue to provide a safe place for our guests to relax and enjoy a meal and some cocktails.
We are so happy to be able to reopen and make a living again,” he added.
Over the next few days, other local business owners are preparing to reopen outdoor restaurant dining this week in Santa Barbara.
Staff on Monday morning were in the process of shifting the emphasis in Third Window’s kitchen from takeout only to serving food in a safe manner outdoors, and will be working with all of its pop-up partners toward the same goal.
Before lifting the stay-at-home order, three of the state’s five regions — including Santa Barbara County as part of the multi-county Southern California region — had been under the strict rules based on the region’s hospital intensive-care unit capacity.
California’s regions fell under Newsom’s stay-at-home order when a region had its percentage of hospital ICU capacity drop below 15%.
“Four-week ICU capacity projections for these three regions are above 15%, the threshold that allows regions to exit the order,” California Department of Public Health officials said in a statement Monday.
The order banned outdoor dining set-ups, and restaurants were open for take-out only.
Services and activities, such as outdoor dining, may resume with required modifications, unless additional restrictions by local jurisdictions, according to CDPH officials.
The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department issued a local health officer order Monday evening outlining the county-specific restrictions and the allowances for businesses.
Restaurants, gyms and fitness centers, movie theaters, museums, and zoos and aquariums, and personal care services can reopen outdoor with modifications in the purple tier.
The county order goes into effect at 8 a.m. Tuesday.
All businesses in Santa Barbara County must follow all state guidance for their industry and a self-attestation to signal to employees and the public that their business took the necessary steps to ensure a safe reopening amid the pandemic.
The county will continue to restrict gatherings of any size at this time, the county’s COVID-19 Joint Information Center said in a statement Monday.
Santa Barbara will return to the color-coded tier system based on local case rates and test positivity, and remains in the most-restrictive purple tier.
A county is considered purple for having “widespread” COVID-19 transmission in the community.
Most indoor operations will have to remain closed in Santa Barbara County while in the purple tier.
Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer, urged people to “please stay the course.”
“Avoid gatherings, wear your face covering, and stay six feet from those you do not live with,” he said Monday. “We are getting closer, but this (COVID-19 pandemic) is not yet over.”