Connecticut restaurants eager to going as restrictions lifted – now they brace for New York influx

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Connecticut restaurant owners say they are ready to go Wednesday as the state has now become one of the few in the northeast to allow outdoor dining during the coronavirus outbreak – something that could draw an influx of visitors from harder-hit metropolitan regions.

The change is going into effect today as other sectors of Connecticut’s economy have simultaneously been given the green light to reopen, such as non-essential retail stores, offices and malls.

“We are definitely eager to get back to work,” Chris Gavrielidis, the owner of Harbor Lights, a seafood restaurant in Norwalk, told Fox News. “Sitting at home for two months is not as comfortable as you would imagine.” 

Harbor Lights, which serves seafood along Norwalk's waterfront, is one of the restaurants in Connecticut reopening its outdoor dining areas today. 

Harbor Lights, which serves seafood along Norwalk’s waterfront, is one of the restaurants in Connecticut reopening its outdoor dining areas today.  (Harbor Lights)

Harbour Lights is planning to start seating customers at 18 tables on its waterfront outdoor patio Wednesday in accordance with state and city health guidelines. The process of serving diners in-person during the coronavirus pandemic is unchartered territory for many restaurant owners – but those in nearby Rhode Island and New Hampshire have already started heading into it this week.

“We are going to take it day by day and implement everything that they want,” Gavrielidis said, adding that “I do think with our limited capacity that those tables will be full.”

And he expects at least a few of those customers will be travelling from states like New York, where restaurants – which will only reopen further in phase three of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s reopening plan — are weeks away from having some of their restrictions lifted.

“Our [seafood] stand next door, Overton’s, you can see all the cars coming in that have New York license plates,” Gavrielidis said, in reference to a take-out eatery he owns that shares the same parking lot as Harbor Lights. “I’ll talk to them… they are up for the day, they are trying to get out.”

L'Escale, which serves French fare in Greenwich, Conn., is reopening for outdoor dining Wednesday. (Courtesy L'Escale)

L’Escale, which serves French fare in Greenwich, Conn., is reopening for outdoor dining Wednesday. (Courtesy L’Escale)

David Fletcher, the director of operations at L’Escale in Greenwich, which hosts waterfront weddings and other large events, said Connecticut’s lifting of restrictions Wednesday is a much-needed boost.

“When we were doing curbside, there was a little bit of a heartbeat for the restaurant,” he told Fox News. “And right now, we just got another little bit of a bump as far as being able to open.”

“There are actually little trees and bushes between a lot of the tables – I think the customers will have a good feeling about going out and feeling safe, which is most important,” he added.

Fletcher says staff there will be wearing masks and gloves and will go through a checkpoint each time they come into work, where they will get their temperature taken. The restaurant employs around 100 people and from what Fletcher has heard, they are happy to be returning.

“It’s not about making what they were making when we were operating. It is just about getting their job back. It’s a pride thing,” he said.

Around Greenwich, reservations at other restaurants opening their outdoor dining areas today are “robust,” according to Marcia O’Kane, the president and CEO of its chamber of commerce.

“There is definite excitement about the limited reopening of stores, restaurants and offices,” she said. “Local retailers are sending us their pictures and are using safety protocols as mandated by our governor.”

But O’Kane also noted that not all of the town’s businesses are ready to reopen in adherence to the health guidelines, “so some will be doing so on the first week of June.”

Similar optimism and caution for Wednesday’s reopenings is being expressed in other parts of Connecticut as well.

“Many of our businesses are excited to open and hopeful that the customers will be there,” said Garrett Sheehan, the CEO of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce. “Safety is our number one focus and we want the public to know all of the steps our businesses are taking to make it a safe experience, including masks, distancing, and regular cleanings.”

Heather Cavanagh, the president and CEO of Stamford Chamber of Commerce, also noted that “we have to be very thoughtful with this first group of businesses.”

“The last thing we want to do is have another outbreak of this,” she added. “Because if we have another outbreak of this – businesses have already been impacted drastically. If we are going to go through this again, we know what’s going to happen.”

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