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Restaurant owners hope for increased capacity, but it may not happen anytime soon

WPMT Harrisburg logo WPMT Harrisburg 8/17/2020 Grace Griffaton
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"We would very much love 50 percent," said Rob Commero, General Manager of Tied House Restaurant when asked about capacity.

Imagine opening a restaurant during a pandemic limited to just 25 percent indoor capacity. Tied House opened for indoor dining last Tuesday in Lancaster County. The restaurant brings locally brewed beer, house-smoked and roasted ingredients to historic Lititz. The restaurant also features locally crafted woodwork from a number of businesses in the area.

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"It was somewhat of a leap of faith," said Commero.

The leap of faith like every other restaurant across the state is tied down by the current restrictions in place - including 25% indoor capacity, alcohol consumption only with meals, and service only at tables and booths. Bar service is prohibited.

Commero describes it as a juggling act -- trying to provide a quality experience, keep customers and employees safe, and still make a profit.

"Revenue is the thing, right? So in a business, we have to make sure we can cover our expenses so it's been very unique to figure out with capacity restrictions like what we can do," explained Commero. "We have no history of volume at this location or in Lititz."

It doesn't seem like the restrictions imposed on bars and restaurants back in July will be going away or changing anytime soon either. 

"All of Pennsylvania has had a resurgence," said Governor Tom Wolf (D) Pennsylvania. "That's why we're doing what we're doing right now. Pennsylvania was in a pretty good place."

Governor Wolf said that during a news conference in York last Thursday.

"I took steps like with restaurants to restrict access to those things, and they have had an impact, and we are having fewer and fewer cases," added Governor Wolf.

The Governor said getting students back to learning should be the priority, and Pennsylvania can't do that if COVID-19 cases spike. As parent to a high school senior, Commero doesn't disagree with the Governor; he just hopes the administration considers how badly some restaurants are hurting and the data once school is back in session.

"Downtown Lancaster is really struggling," said Commero. "Caution is always good, but if we get kids back to school, and we don't see huge spikes, I believe the decision should be made to get back to something more amicable for our industry."

FOX43 reached out to Governor Wolf's office to see if and when restrictions on restaurants and bars could be lifted. Nate Wardle, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, sent FOX43 an email. 

It reads in part, "Since implementing the statewide targeted mitigation tactics, case counts have stabilized and appear to be on a downward trajectory. That said, in order to successfully reopen restaurants at 50% or fully and we need to remain vigilant about taking precautions, especially wearing a mask that covers our noses and mouths while around other people. This is an easy, yet important action that has been shown by research to reduce the spread of COVID-19. It is critical that public officials, including all members of the General Assembly, recognize this evidence-based mitigation tactic, as Pennsylvania needs to show progress in the control of COVID-19 infections before we can successfully lift targeted mitigation tactics.

In addition, last week’s White House Coronavirus Task Force report to Pennsylvania recommended continuing to limit indoor dining at restaurants to 25% capacity, and keep establishments closed where social distancing and mask use cannot occur, such as bars, nightclubs and entertainment venues.

Recognizing the financial difficulty that many restaurants are encountering, the administration asks the legislature to join them in calling on Pat Toomey and other members of Congress to quickly provide financial relief to Pennsylvania’s restaurants by passing the Real Economic Support That Acknowledges Unique Restaurant Assistance Needed to Survive (RESTAURANTS) Act. The bipartisan bill in Congress provides $120 billion to help independent restaurants with the economic challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal bill provides grants to cover the difference between revenues from 2019 and projected revenues through 2020, with a maximum grant of $10 million. The grants would be available to food service or drinking establishments that are not publicly traded or part of a chain with 20 or more locations doing business under the same name. The funds can be used for payroll, benefits, mortgage, rent, protective equipment, food or other cost."

Located at 27-31 East Main Street, Tied House is open Tuesday through Saturday.

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