By ZEINAB NAJM
Restaurants across the state are slowly reopening their dinning rooms to serve customers after restrictions were eased relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced that restaurants and bars could reopen with a 25 percent capacity for an indoor dining as of Feb. 1.
Requirements for dining include tables placed 6 feet apart with a maximum of six people at a table. Also, establishments must close by 10 p.m. The new order will last until Feb. 21.
Sibley Gardens, 916 W. Jefferson Ave. in Trenton; Gus & Us Grill, 17445 Hamilton Ave. in Allen Park; and Antonio’s Cucina Italiana, 26356 Ford Road in Dearborn Heights, are just a few of restaurants in the local area happy to having indoor dining back.
Mark Rugiero, part of the Antonio’s family, spends most of his time at the Dearborn Heights restaurant, and is happy to have customers back for seated dining.
“The 25 percent capacity will help and we’re grateful to have customers visiting for indoor dining,” Rugiero said. “A majority of our business before was from the dining room.”
Currently, Antonio’s has about a 50-person capacity indoors compared to the over 200 they are allowed to seat under normal circumstances.
“Even now we’re still in a very dangerous place with 25 percent,” Rugiero said. “It becomes more difficult to make a profit operating at that capacity because margins are so small, but we’re lucky to be open compared to other restaurants who had to close their doors.”
Antonio’s will continue its curbside service — implemented during the closure — since it was well received by customers and provided jobs for servers at the time.
On Feb. 2, a staff appreciation day was held at all Rugiero family restaurants with 50 percent of the proceeds donated to employees for their loyalty.
Current hours for the Dearborn Heights location are noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. Friday, 1 to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 1 to 9 p.m. Sunday under the new MDHHS order.
Antonio’s also has locations in Livonia, Canton and Farmington Hills in addition to the family’s original restaurant, Roman Village Cucina Italiana, at 9924 Dix Ave. in Dearborn.
Sibley Gardens General Manager Nick Piunti said he didn’t sleep very well during the indoor dining closure, especially with the constant changes and being at the mercy of the unknown.
“We’re lucky because we have our established cliental,” Piunti said. “It’s our 60th year in and have built up our customers. I feel bad for people who have been hit hard and hope those restaurants can recover.”
Piunti cited not knowing a reopening date was difficult because he couldn’t prepare.
“We had carryout during the closure, but people come for the whole dining experience which carryout can’t make up for,” he said. “It was hard for our staff who were unemployed during the holidays.”
With the reopening at 25 percent, Sibley Gardens can fit up to 50 customers in its dining room that usually holds a maximum of 200.
“The first week has been great and we’re being careful, as we’ve always been,” he said. “We’ve been doing reservations only upon reopening.”
Hours for the restaurant are currently 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, and closed Sunday.
Gus & Us Grill owner Maria Asimakopoulos credits the large amount of loyal customers who continued to show up for lunch and dinner carryout orders.
“We had our great customers coming twice a day supporting us,” she said. “The line would be out the door during the closure.”
Now, as indoor dining resumes at 25 percent capacity, business has become more steady with reservations, walk-ins and continued carryout.
“Having our employees and customers back has been a blessing,” Asimakopoulos said. “We look forward to serving our cliental as best we can.”
Hours at Gus & Us Grill Owner are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.
The executive order to close indoor dining across Michigan went into effect last March, followed by a reopening in June and then closure in November before the Feb. 1 limited capacity reopening.
The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association President and CEO Justin Winslow said in a Jan. 22 press release that during the pandemic nearly 3,000 restaurants have closed and there are about 200,000 fewer employees than a year prior.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])