Local restaurant owner shares ‘the new normal’ after reopening doors Friday

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — The coronavirus pandemic has altered reality for millions of Americans. With event cancellations along with closures of non-essential businesses, some might say this isn’t the 2020 they had envisioned.

For the restaurants that have begun to serve dine-in guests again, the level of “normal” that once was still isn’t quite there.

Under new health guidelines from Gov. Bill Lee, restaurants reopened with certain restrictions, and one locally owned restaurant, Cafe Lola on North Roan Street, went above and beyond the guidelines so they could serve their regular customers once again with extra precaution.

SEE ALSO: Reopening Tennessee: Gov. Lee asking restaurants to ‘keep bar areas closed’ and ‘no live music’

SEE ALSO: LIST: Which Northeast Tennessee restaurants are reopening for dine-in service?

News Channel 11 spoke to Cafe Lola owner Tara Morrow, who said although seeing staff and regular customers again is fulfilling, there are still safety risks they continue to avoid with a few extra steps.

“We mark out tables that we can’t use because they’re too close together,” Morrow said. “We make sure that we seat guests strategically enough that every time someone sits there, there is a nice six to eight feet apart for that table so they don’t feel clustered and are safe.”

In addition to limiting dining room guests and adding space between tables, Morrow told News Channel 11 that BioPure sanitized the entire building, leaving behind extra cleaner for highly trafficked areas to ensure the area remains clean.

Staff wear personal protective equipment such a face mask and gloves, changing gloves regularly to avoid cross contamination.

Cafe Lola reduced its hours, leaving extra time for staff to disinfect the bistro between lunch and dinner. Dine-in is reservation only to avoid the risk of people flooding the building and to keep the 50% capacity at bay.

“Tonight, we’ve already stopped taking reservations because we know how many people we can have in there at one time,” Morrow said. “I think people can come out if they are responsible. As a society, we can gradually take this step together and get back to what was normal — this is the new normal.”

When restaurants in the region began closing doors in March, Cafe Lola lost the funds it took to continue with a full staff for curbside employees, resulting in the furlough of many of its staff that, according to Morrow, are close-knit.

There were days Morrow ran the restaurant by herself, as she had lost many of her regular dine-in customers due to the stay-at-home orders and found a way to keep up with the take-out work flow.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Morrow received the news she qualified for the paycheck protection program, which allowed her to rehire her staff.

PREVIOUSLY: Local small business able to rehire employees after receiving loan from the Paycheck Protection Program

Cafe Lola currently serves dine-in guests by reservation only. Lunch hours are 11 a.m. until 3 p.m., and dinner hours are 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. On Sundays, Cafe Lola serves brunch 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.

For more information, visit the Cafe Lola Facebook page.

Continuing coverage of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

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