If all goes as planned, there will be a freestanding greenhouse in front of Caffe Gelato in the next few weeks.
But the Newark restaurant has no plans to grow hothouse flowers. Instead, the structure will offer diners an outdoor room with a view.
The greenhouse, which accommodates one dining party at a time, allows guests to enjoy a meal at the restaurant without entering it. They can also stay warm.
“It’s the perfect solution,” said Ryan German.
Ideally, it will appeal to guests who are wary about indoor dining but don’t want to huddle beneath a patio heater.
Robin Zimont likes the idea.
“This makes it possible to be socially distant but still dine out at Caffe Gelato,” said the Pike Creek resident. “It’s so important to support local businesses. It’s such a tough time for restaurants, and in the winter, it will be brutal to get customers to dine out.”
Kathleen Trakas of Wilmington, however, wonders about the exposure to the previous diners’ germs.
“I’d just as well eat indoors at socially distanced tables,” she said.
However, German has a plan, and the greenhouses are just one of the many efforts he’s made to keep employees working and customers happy.
Quick to pivot
German founded Caffe Gelato in 2000 after a trip to Europe. But the University of Delaware student was no stranger to entrepreneurship; he also had a painting business.
When the pandemic hit last spring, German rekindled his home-improvement business to keep kitchen staff employed. And while the restaurant was closed for dining, he offered family meals, a food-delivery service and a marketplace with groceries for delivery or curbside pickup.
He also began holding virtual wine dinners. Customers picked up the prepared food and fixings and watched the experts via a live stream.
Like many restaurants in the area, German has invested in the restaurant’s infrastructure. There are air scrubbers on each of the three HVAC systems with ultraviolet light and a HEPA air purifier in the restaurant.
Combatting cold weather
In warmer weather, German successfully lobbied for outdoor dining events, and the city held a series of alfresco dining nights.
But now there’s a damp chill in the air.
Enter the dining greenhouses, which are already in play in Amsterdam, Denver, Chicago, New York and other major cities.
Some structures have clear plastic. Since German wanted glass, he contacted a company in Texas that makes greenhouses for high-end homes. His home-improvement business is assembling the piece.
Getting the project off the ground has involved interactions with a variety of agencies. The Delaware Department of Transportation approved the structure’s placement, he said. The city of Newark has given him the thumbs up to erect one greenhouse as a test.
In & out
Trakas is concerned about airflow and sanitation, and she’s not alone. The Department of Health wants the air in the 370-cubic-foot space to turn over two times an hour.
German worked with a local HVAC company to create an air exchange system that turns over the air 11 times an hour. “We want it to be safe,” he said. “We want it to be better than expected.”
Air coming into the greenhouse does not have to be warm, but it will be. The structure will also benefit from southern exposure during the day.
Only people from the same household can book the greenhouses, which workers will wipe down after each use. Reservations are requested.
If all goes well, German will add additional greenhouses. When the pandemic is over, the manufacturer has assured him that he can sell the units for the same wholesale price at which he purchased them.
No doubt, German hopes that day will come soon. But in the meantime, the greenhouses are another way to attract diners.