Local restaurants, breweries reopen smoothly following COVID-19 shutdown


ROANOKE, Va. – On Friday night, many watched and waited to see how the reopening of local restaurants and breweries would go under Governor Northam’s Phase 1 plan to reopening the Commonwealth.

And unlike in other places across the country, everything seemed to go just fine and people appeared to be on their best behaviors practicing social distancing and respecting capacity limits.

Big Lick Brewing has the largest outdoor space in Roanoke and allowed 30% of its capacity, shy of Governor Northam’s mandate of 50% or less, which worked out to 75 people. It opened at 2 p.m. and hit the cap around 6 p.m. At its max, there were about a dozen people waiting in line to get in.

Tap room manager Adam McDearmon said based on how the first night went, odds look favorable for them to stay open.

“Honestly I was expecting a decent amount of people to show up; we’ve been surprised that people haven’t been rushing out the door just yet, which I think is probably a good thing. People are still taking precautions which is good,” McDearmon said.

Big Lick staff wore masks and some customers did too. Groups were limited to ten people and tables were spaced six feet or more apart. Marcia Barry and her husband came as part of the afternoon crowd and were happy to be out.

“I’ve been patient, we’ve been patient, my husband and I, but you know, we have to follow the rules and I believe it’s been the safest thing that Northam did,” Barry said. “We support that but we support reopening some things also.”

None of the area establishments reported any sort of problems. Customers like Stephanie Seitz were pleasantly surprised at how serious other people took the issue.

“I’ve seen a lot of people spacing out and being really respectful of other people’s space I think that’s the nice thing about Roanoke is that we’re all pretty considerate here,” Seitz said. “I had some concerns about crowds but seeing what they’ve done about limiting the amount of people at a table and all that it’s been pretty nice.”

At Roanoke’s Fork in the Alley, a small crowd gathered on the outside patio to enjoy food and drinks. Staff there had a six foot pole with a fork on the end of it, a tongue-in-cheek way of encouraging people to follow the rules. Employees wore shirts with the restaurants logo on the front and the words “Essential Forker” on the back.

In Salem, Mac and Bob’s patio stayed busy throughout the night. Owner Bob Rotanz said he was pleased with the number of customers who came out. He said they didn’t have any issues.

The reopening of dine-in was for restaurants and breweries with outdoor space only. Rotanz agreed with others that there aren’t many places in town with large outdoor spaces like his and at Big Lick. He hopes other restaurants which remain “locked out” are able to get by in this time too.

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