With social distancing measures in place and hand sanitizer in sight, various restaurants around Lake County reopened to dine-in guests after two months of only offering delivery and carryout services.
"It's pretty easy that's what we normally did. It was ... a little different for us just to do carryouts," said Toula Klideris who owns Prime Steakhouse and Umi Sushi and Lounge in Crown Point.
"But to open and get back to business, it's like riding a bike. You always know how to get right back on and ride it."
Lake County bars and restaurants were able to reopen at a 50% capacity on Monday under Gov. Eric Holcomb's Back on Track Indiana Plan. Bar seating is off limits, along with live entertainment.
Klideris, who also owns Theo's Steaks & Seafood in Highland and AVGO and Chop House on Wicker in St. John, said she and her employees were ready to get back to work.
Though eager to reopen, Klideris said behind a mask that maintaining social distancing is key. Tables have been moved. Similar to a host, hand sanitizer greets diners at the door. Staff members are wearing masks.
"We're happy to be back and open and running and seeing everybody and getting our staff back," she said.
In addition to sporting personal protective equipment, servers will need to double check what's being offered every day. With meat prices rising and food shortages, some menu items aren't available, Klideris said.
"Every day our menus will have to change because there might be things that we can get today that we can't get tomorrow," Klideris said.
Appetite for safety
Various restaurants on the square, including Square Roots, Main Street Cafe, Jax's Crown Town Grill also opened.
"(We) started re-trainings on Friday. We had new safety protocol training on Friday and Saturday. (We) got everyone back in for that, got them all trained and ready to go," said Square Roots General Manager Kyle Sobkowicz.
"We're doing health screenings of all of our employees as soon as they get in. Before they clock in, they come get their temperature taken and (we) ask them a few other questions about COVID symptoms."
Joe and Cindy Beckman, of Crown Point, were a couple of diners at Square Roots during the early afternoon.
The idea to dine out, Cindy said, was Joe's. But it's a welcome change to have someone else cook, she said, adding the pair have primarily cooked at home during the pandemic.
"The food here is really what I like. I like spicy food, and it's just a nice place to eat," Joe said.
"I'm still worried about touching things. I mean, I use my hand sanitizer and I have masks. I think it's just because it's the first time out," Cindy said. "I think once you get out once, maybe it'll be easier each time and everybody seems very well prepared."
Byway Brewing Company in Hammond also reopened with a scaled back menu on Monday, a decision owner Dave Toth didn't have to think twice about.
"I think the biggest thing is just remaining self aware. I guess that's a good thing for most things in life, but certainly under these circumstances," Toth said.
"With our staff all required to wear masks, that helps with that self awareness. As long as we're smart about it, everything's going to be fine."
Disposable and digital menus are available at the Byway and hand sanitizer has been placed at multiple locations around the restaurant.
General Manager Philip Sajn said staff members are wearing masks, disinfecting tables and chairs after each use and cleaning bathrooms hourly.
Over the past week, Sajn said the craft brewery has received more than 100 phone calls about its reopening; a majority coming from Illinois residents.
"We're anticipating it's going to be pretty good for us. A lot of the people that have come in today I've actually known, they're regulars," he said. "I think gearing up for the p.m. shift, we're going to see a lot of people from Illinois come over here."
Though allowed to reopen Monday, some eateries on the Crown Point square are opting to wait until later this week — or this summer — to reopen their doors.
Twelve Islands, Papa's Deli and Noka's Cafe & Catering are expected to open later this week, according to management.
Edwardo’s Pizza in Munster and Miner-Dunn in Highland also reopened at 50% occupancy and guests are asked to adhere to social distancing guidelines by staying at least 6 feet apart and to wear masks when possible, said Joe Samara, who owns both restaurants.
Tavern on Main owner Miranda O’Block said she is hoping the Chicago-style gastropub will open its doors in mid-June.
"We’re going to see how these next couple of weeks go, and then after that we will reevaluate," O'Block said.
O'Block said the Tavern is trying to be responsible with its reopening. She added other restaurants that have reopened are being responsible, but are larger than the Tavern.
"We are mostly concerned for the health and safety of our employees and our customers," O'Block said, adding Tavern is small, making social distancing less feasible.
Carryout, curbside and delivery is still available and there will be weekly updates posted to the restaurant's Facebook page about reopening, she said.
An employee at Bombers BBQ in Munster said the popular barbecue hangout will remain closed to dine-in customers until next month out of an abundance of caution, while still offering carryout and curbside pickup services.
On the restaurant’s social media page, management explained they are choosing to stay closed because they believe it is “in the best interest” of both Bombers customers and team members.
That means Bombers customers must place orders online or over the phone, rather than in store, and employees must continue wearing masks. Bombers also is continuing to operate under new hours of 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., or until they sell out, whichever happens first.
Times staff writer Lauren Cross contributed to this report.
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