Berkshire eateries, eager to reopen, face more questions than answers
PITTSFIELD — A day after Gov. Charlie Baker released his four-phase plan for reopening the state's economy, some Berkshire restaurant owners say they are no closer to understanding the way forward.
"It's horrible," said Anthony Mazzeo, the owner of Mazzeo's Ristorante in Pittsfield. "There's no guidelines yet, to my understanding."
The restaurant industry has lost more than 75 percent of its revenue since the COVID-19 pandemic caused them to close on-site dining operations two months ago.
As the number of deaths and cases statewide continue to show steady decline, Baker on Monday announced his plan to begin a gradual reopening of businesses across the state. Houses of worship, construction and manufacturing, and some health facilities were among the first to get the green light to reopen under the first phase. Nonessential retail businesses will be allowed to resume sales, with curbside pickup, beginning May 25.
Baker said restaurants and hospitality venues are included in the second phase. With each phase expected to last as long as three weeks, local restaurants could reopen with limited capacity by the middle of next month.
But, to prepare for that day, local restaurateurs need guidance on how to prepare.
Mazzeo, who has been serving takeout through the shutdown, said he still doesn't know how many patrons he'll be able to serve in his South Street restaurant when his operations get up and running again.
"Can I reopen at 25 percent, 45 percent or 65 percent of capacity?" he asked. "I'm a little different than the others, because I have a banquet room. I don't know how many people I can have."
The need to plan ahead is key to preparing for the reopening, he said, whenever that is.
"It's a little disappointing," he said. "It would be nice to have a game plan going forward to plan accordingly ... the important thing you need to determine how you're going to open and when you're going to open."
Craig Benoit, the owner of the Hot Dog Ranch in Pittsfield, referred to Baker's reopening guidelines for restaurants as "pretty bleak."
He said the guidelines don't provide restaurant owners with a timetable for opening, no information about occupancy rates, or how inside or outside dining would be set up.
"No new instructions whatsoever," Benoit said. "I thought we would be open the first of June. But, maybe it's the 8th, or the 15th or the 22nd. We don't know."
1Berkshire, the county's state-designated economic development agency, is part of a subcommittee of the state's Reopening Advisory Board that is focused on tourism, restaurants and accommodations — three key Berkshire job sectors.
Jonathan Butler, 1Berkshire's president and CEO, said the group will hold its first meeting Wednesday morning.
"I think the group is going to be working for a week or two to flesh things out," Butler said Tuesday.
He said code enforcement and regional opening dates are matters the committee is expected to discuss when it comes to restaurants.
"We'll know more in a week from now than [we do] today," he said.
Butler noted that the situation is unprecedented.
"All of these things are being done for the first time," he said. "The guidelines and directives are being invented on the fly with health and safety the primary considerations."
At the Hot Dog Ranch, which also has been open for takeout, Benoit said he has followed all of the guidelines that have been issued so far, including spacing between tables.
"We're following all the healthy things," he said. "We're doing everything we possibly can."
But, until more specific guidelines are released, he said, "I'm sitting on my hands."
Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-281-2755.
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