Though restaurants and small businesses in the District will be allowed to welcome customers on a limited basis starting Friday, a return to true pre-pandemic normalcy remains many months away.
Andy Shallal, who owns the local restaurant chain Busboys and Poets, called his management team to his 14th street location Wednesday morning after he learned that D.C. would enter Phase One reopening in less than 48 hours. He spent the rest of the afternoon leading his team through trial runs of socially distanced outdoor service to make sure they are ready to greet customers at 11 a.m. Friday.
“We have been working for the last two months to make sure we are ready for this on all levels,” Shallal said. “And I think we are ready.”
Since early May, Shallal has rehired 20 percent of his staff in preparation to seat customers after months of offering only takeout and delivery. By Wednesday night, he said, his management team will know how to best sanitize tables and when to encourage customers to download and order from an app, which Shallal hopes will limit interaction between patrons and employees. He has already spaced tables six feet apart and condensed the brunch menu to make sure his kitchen staff, which has decreased in size, can keep up with demand.
Other restaurant owners in the city, however, can’t take advantage of the rollback in restrictions. Sushi Capitol, with locations in Chinatown, Capitol Hill and near the Convention Center, will not seat customers anytime in the foreseeable future.
“When our mayor says to take a step forward, I want to follow wholeheartedly,” said Can Yurdagul, who owns the sushi restaurants. “But outdoor seating is just not applicable to me.”
Like many local establishments, Sushi Capitol has no outdoor space. Restaurant owners can apply to extend seating into sidewalks or streets for limited periods, but Yurdagul plans to stick with what has worked throughout the pandemic. He is especially reluctant to serve sushi in the hot D.C. summer because the raw food could threaten his customers’ health.
“This is not the time to be financially motivated,” he said. “It is the time to be health motivated.”
Sheila Weaver, a barber at Wrenn’s Barber shop in the Navy Yard, is similarly hesitant to reopen, though barbers will be allowed to see customers by appointment starting Friday. She spent Wednesday morning texting her regulars, trying to gauge their interest.
“I have to see what my customers want because they are the ones who are paying me,” she said. “But I am definitely concerned. I don’t want to be thirsty and pull down my mask to drink water and kill everybody in the shop.”