You could almost hear the collective moan when Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered restaurants to close their dining rooms in Fresno County again earlier this month.
The closures are part of a flashback as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, with the county reporting a total of 8,941 cases and 91 deaths on Wednesday.
Restaurants are always open for take-out, delivery, drive-thru and outdoor dining.
Although frustrated, restaurateurs are doing what they can to keep their business running. They get creative, with the help of cities, making it easy to expand outdoor dining.
And a notable addition to alfresco dining is coming to the Tower District in the next few weeks or so, when there are a few parklets. More on that in a moment.
But first, you’ve probably noticed that restaurants are setting up outdoor seating where they never have before.
When even Denny’s restaurants start setting up tables in tents in parking lots, you know something different is happening.
Fresno and Clovis
Both Fresno and Clovis have signed emergency orders that allow restaurants to extend their meals al fresco in common areas like sidewalks and parking lots through temporary permits.
Clovis’s version even allows restaurants to expand into part of a street, so businesses in the Old Town, for example, could take up parking spaces nearby.
Earlier this week, Clovis signed another order allowing other businesses – gyms, stores and yoga studios, for example – to operate in the common areas as well.
Many restaurants in Fresno are taking advantage of the new freedom.
The adjoining kitchen, for example, took over the parking lot just west of his restaurant and turned it into a terrace. They hung lamps from the ceiling and placed tables under the trees.
Collect Coffee Bar at Campus Pointe, the mall near Fresno State, has tables and umbrellas out front, but that area isn’t shaded.
Their property manager therefore suggested that they place seats inside the unfinished hull of the building next door.
âWe see people (there) mostly in the morning, and the WiFi hits, so we see people on their laptops and people studying,â said Sumer Rasheed, a partner at the company.
Fresno Breakfast House already has a patio with a fountain and fans that can hold about five socially distant tables. They were able to triple their seating capacity by adding tables under the overhangs on either side of the restaurant.
They also brought back their weekend pianist, Nate Butler. They moved the piano from the dining room to the banquet hall next door, pushing it all the way to the open doors so that it was socially distant, but not the music.
The changes mean the restaurant was able to rehire most of its 35 employees – even with a closed dining room – after initially shutting down completely when ordering shelter-in-place, owner SymonÃ© Tellawi said.
âIt’s very important because it allows us to keep our staff employed,â she said. âWe had been stationary for 10 weeks already. We cannot afford to close again.
Of course, the increase in patio dining comes as Fresno enters the hottest time of the year. Triple-digit temperatures give breakfast and lunch restaurants a better chance at running alfresco dining than their dinner counterparts.
Regulars in the Tower District will soon see more alfresco dining here.
Two “parklets” head towards Olive Avenue. These are 40-foot-long boardwalks that will be placed in the parking lanes, each containing six or seven tables. The sides will be covered with murals by local artists.
It has not yet been decided where they will go. One of them will likely be ahead of Irene’s, according to the Tower District Marketing Committee which is leading the effort.
They hope to put another one across the street. They are still looking for a company to adopt the second parklet.
The committee aims to have the parklets operational during the month of August.
The money for the parklets comes from the federal CARES coronavirus relief funds, channeled through the city of Fresno. Each will cost around $ 25,000, and additional funds are available for parklets in other parts of town.
The committee plans to hire all local workers and artists to complete the work, said executive director Tyler Mackey.
âJust think: this is really an opportunity to support some local artists, to support some local businesses and to be really true to our spirit in the Tower,â he said.
Harris Ranch in Coalinga
The Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant in Coalinga has also added alfresco dining and can serve around 100 guests at socially distanced tables in shaded outdoor spaces. Printed menus are discarded after each use. Digital menus are available online and through the restaurant’s mobile app. You can also order in advance or take out.
This story was originally published July 16, 2020 12:15 pm.