First Bay Area Restaurants Reopen for Dine-In, Navigate New Procedures

May 24, 2020 Updated: May 27, 2020

NAPA, Calif.—Clean tables and chairs waited expectantly in the shade in front of Tarla Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Napa, California, on May 23.

The doors were wide open, and curious passersby slowed to do a double-take at this eatery emerging from hibernation.

Napa County is the first Bay Area county to allow dine-in to resume at restaurants. California Gov. Gavin Newsom released industry guidelines on May 12, but said dine-in would reopen gradually across the state, starting in counties less affected by COVID-19.

Yusuf Topal, the restaurant’s owner, said he worked with county officials on reopening. He walked us through the new dining experience. 

Epoch Times Photo
People stop in front of Tarla Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Napa, Calif., on May 23, 2020. (Ilene Eng/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Half the dining tables are removed and the remaining ones are spaced further apart at Tarla Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Napa, Calif., on May 23, 2020. (Ilene Eng/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Some diners eat outside at Tarla Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Napa, Calif., on May 23, 2020. (Ilene Eng/The Epoch Times).

The dining room looked sparse. Half the tables were removed to allow space between diners. The tables were bare, with staff only bringing out place settings when needed. 

The staff took the temperature of each customer and recorded his or her contact information. All employees had their temperatures taken at the beginning of the shift.

When seated, customers didn’t get the usual menus. 

“We are using disposable menus, and also we are using a QR code for the customers to be able to read the menus on their phone and also to be able to do the payment on their own smartphones,” Topal told The Epoch Times. 

Epoch Times Photo
Yusuf Topal opens Tarla Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Napa at full service on May 23, 2020. (Ilene Eng/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
People can scan the QR code to see the menu on their phone or ask for a one-time use menu at Tarla Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Napa, Calif., on May 23, 2020. (Ilene Eng/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Chef Jason Naaman (R) takes the bartender’s temperature before work starts at Tarla Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Napa, Calif., on May 23, 2020. (Ilene Eng/The Epoch Times).

The same items were on the menu as usual, however. Topal said the restaurant is still serving the full menu. 

Executive Chef Jason Naaman has been cooking takeout orders for the past two months.

“It was a process of getting used to putting food back on plates instead of boxes,” he said. 

“It’s wonderful to see the guests happy, and people getting out of their house and enjoying themselves,” Naaman said. 

Epoch Times Photo
Executive Chef Jason Naaman at Tarla Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Napa, Calif., on May 23, 2020. (Ilene Eng/The Epoch Times).

The restaurant was booked fully for the long weekend. 

“We are very busy, we are completely booked and we are very excited to open again and serve our customers,” Topal said. “We can see a crazy number of people calling and they want to make a reservation, they want to come and dine with us. But unfortunately, we are running with a 50 percent capacity.”

With social distancing in the dining room, the space can only fit so many people. But Topal is just glad to have more people than none.

“We cannot stay closed. We have rent and laborers to pay, and employees that have to feed their families,” he said. 

Staff members sanitize the dining room and kitchen regularly. In the kitchen, “we’re sanitizing every 30 minutes all of the work surfaces. Everyone in the kitchen is wearing masks and gloves. … We have sanitizing stations as well with hand sanitizer,” Naaman said.

Epoch Times Photo
Employees clean every half hour at Tarla Mediterranean Bar and Grill in Napa on May 23, 2020. (Ilene Eng/The Epoch Times)

Elsewhere in the Bay Area

In Carmel-by-the-Sea, in Monterey County, because indoor dining isn’t yet proceeding, local restaurant owners are working on another approach.

Restaurants are obtaining permission from city officials on a case-by-case basis for outdoor dining spaces. 

“As a community, we’re working on doing parklets for individual restaurants, and community dining by closing streets down,” Ken Spilfogel, owner of Village Corner California Bistro and a member of the city’s restaurant committee board of directors, told The Epoch Times.

In Corte Madera, Marin County, restaurant owner Tony Farah said he’s confused and waiting for more clarity before he makes his reopening plans.

“That regulation is not easy, and every day they change it, and so I need to wait,” Farah told The Epoch Times. 

His Cafe Verde Pizzeria & Ristorante has outdoor seating, but half of the area is city-owned and must remain closed. 

“I don’t know what’s going on right now,” he said. “Nobody knows what’s going on right now.” 

In San Jose, in Santa Clara County, Angelina Ramos is poring over all the new guidance and regulations and says her restaurant won’t reopen until it’s better prepared, she said. Santa Clara has been harder hit by COVID-19 than some other counties. 

“We’d rather wait a little bit longer and make sure that we’re ready, than to make a mistake and open too soon, just to close down again,” Ramos, the director of operations at Luna Mexican Kitchen, told The Epoch Times.

“Since the day we closed, I’ve been researching and planning for this,” she said. “So it’s nice to have the guidelines now. These are all the things that we were thinking about.”