Pat Nilon can “feel the difference” in the air in Cromwell’s American Tavern & Taqueria, the restaurant he owns in Greenville.
Nilon is the proud owner of air purification units made by Aerus.
“We are very enthusiastic about this because, let’s face it, regardless of what restaurants are offering outdoors, it’s going to be a ‘real’ November one of these days — and a ‘real’ December and a ‘real’ January,” he noted.
Indeed, winter is coming. And the signature “Game of Thrones” refrain has special meaning for restaurants, which have suffered during the pandemic.
Weather is becoming an issue, and restaurateurs are getting creative to attract customers, many of whom prefer outdoor dining.
Few options are cheap, which adds financial insult to injury.
The state is monitoring the additons.
Delaware restaurants have done a great job of innovating and being responsive to the health crisis, said Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health, during Gov. John Carney’s COVID-19 press conference Tuesday.
‘You’ve heard us say we have concerns about indoor dining,” she said. “I think it’s really fantastic that our restaurants are thinking about creative ways in which they can continue the outdoor dining they’ve been able to establish for Delawareans.”
She was not familiar with the small greenhouses that Caffe Gelato owner Ryan German told the Newark City Council Monday that he plans to install at his restaurant.
“We want to make sure that what they invest in is actually safe,” she said. “Outdoor dining in great, but anything with walls has the potential to actually be more dangerous. Some people started using igloos in other parts of the country and they were finding that actually that was an even riskier setting than even normal indoors, so we just want to make sure that whatever these restaurants are really focused on investing in is going to be a good solution.”
Extending outdoor season
The novel coronavirus pandemic has created three types of diners, said Xavier Teixido, owner of Harry’s Savoy Grill in Brandywine Hundred and co-owner of Kid Shelleen’s Charcoal House & Saloon in Trolley Square.
The first has yet to visit a restaurant; they’re still waiting for the COVID-19 cases to ebb.
The second will dine alfresco, and the third will dine indoors — but only if he or she feels comfortable.
To appeal to the second, restaurants have enhanced outdoor dining. Streets and sidewalks have become patios. Consider Corner Bistro in Talleyville. Owner Mickey Donatello had long entertained the idea of putting some tables on the sidewalk. The pandemic helped expedite the work.
Bardea Food & Drink in downtown Wilmington has been getting props for its “outdoor winter garden,” a tent with heaters.
Harry’s Savoy’s covered patio has been popular. Since traditional heaters aren’t an option here, there are units in the uncovered courtyard, where seating was formerly limited to events.
Teixido is currently pursuing a permit to have infrared heating on the patio.
Down in Newark, Caffe Gelato has propane heaters in expanded outdoor dining areas. More recently, Ryan German plans to install dining “greenhouses” similar to those used in New York, Chicago and Europe. He is working with the city to develop guidelines.
Taking it inside
Not every restaurant has the luxury of an outdoor area. Take Cromwell’s, for example. Two Stones Pub only has one location — the Newark site — with a patio that can accommodate heaters.
For these restaurants, looks matter. Customers must see attempts to abide by the regulations. For instance, they should notice the proper distance between tables.
In Centreville, Buckley’s Tavern has custom-built booth barriers built that “always look like they’ve been there,” said co-owner and chef Tom Hannum.
They were built by Tom Kostur, one of the managers, after the restaurant found out the lead time for plexiglass.
Missi Postles, who is reopening her small dining room at Egg in Rehoboth, installed plexiglass barriers.
At Harry’s Savoy and Kid’s, there are glass barriers between booths that create what Teixido jokingly calls “terrariums.”
Because of such visible safety measures, Teixido has seen outdoor diners decide to eat in.
With the pandemic showing no signs of stopping, restaurants are upping their HVACs and filtration systems.
Postles, for instance, has new ultraviolet air purifiers in the main HVAC system and in ductless units. Likewise, Nilon is having ultraviolet lights placed in his new HVAC system’s ductwork.
Proponents say that UV light can help eliminate certain fungi, bacteria, germs, viruses and pathogens in the system.
Harry’s Ballroom has a purification system in the ductwork. But in the main dining rooms, Teixido put the AirPure device in a visible location. “I want people to see them,” he explained.
Inspired by technology developed for NASA, the units reduce airborne and surface contaminants, according to the manufacturer’s website. Its SARS-CoV-2 virus kill rate is 99.985.
Mike Stiglitz, the owner of Two Stones, investigated AirPure in summer. But there was a backlog and a high price tag. He is moving forward with quotes in the hope that prices have come down.
To be sure, none of these modifications are cheap. Between Teixido’s two restaurants, he’s spent well over $50,000. Delaware Relief Grants from the Division of Small Business have helped with some of the expenses.
However, manufacturers want payment in advance, Nilon noted.
He’s publicized the air filter systems and touted the link to NASA. These days, promoting safety measures is as important as listing the daily food specials.
“In my decades and decades of working in this business, I’ve been really good at getting through situations, but making zero income is daunting,” he said.
Nilon and other restaurateurs hope their investments to protect their customers’ health will pay off this winter.