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Central Pa. restaurants ‘see a future ahead’ as COVID restrictions loosen

PennLive.com logo PennLive.com 4/2/2021 Sue Gleiter, pennlive.com
a living room with a large window: Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar © 31, 2021.\rMark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar

For the first time in more than a year, George Lois is seeing familiar faces.

Regular diners are returning to his Gilligan’s Bar & Grill restaurants in Lower Paxton, Swatara and Hampden townships.

“It was nice to see them. Finally, after they get the vaccines two weeks later they had the courage to come out and have a meal,” he said.

“I see a future ahead. I think we are going to be OK. We learn to live with it,” he added.

a sign on the side of a building: Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar © 31, 2021.\rMark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar

As COVID-19 mitigation restrictions loosen for Pennsylvania’s restaurant industry starting April 4, owners like Lois are optimistic they will see an uptick in diners pulling up bar chairs and sitting at tables and booths in the coming weeks. They say pent-up demand, additional stimulus money and administration of more vaccines is fueling confidence among diners.

“People want to be out. They want to intermix with humans. They are tired of being locked up,” said Ted Kalathas, owner of Theo’s Bar & Grille in Lower Allen Township.

Under the new rules, restaurants are allowed to resume bar seating, alcohol service without purchase of a meal and alcohol sales can once again continue up until 2 a.m. (Previously, last call for alcohol was set at 11 p.m.) Those establishments that self-certify can raise indoor dining levels from 50% to 75% occupancy.

a sidewalk in front of a brick building: Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar © 31, 2021.\rMark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar

Establishments must continue following social distancing guidance, table spacing, mask use and cleaning procedures.

Despite positive COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations trending upward, the state is moving forward with the new rules.

In recent days, Pennsylvania has reported some of the highest one-day totals in two months. More than 2,100 people statewide are being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals, a number that has grown by nearly 700 in the past two weeks.

Earlier this week, Alison Beam, Pennsylvania’s acting Secretary of Health, said the state has no plans to back off on easing restrictions for businesses.

“We’re closely following our hospitalizations, staffing and bed capacity as we watch the cases, also the deaths and understanding how any of the relaxation of any of our mitigation measures should happen incrementally,” Beam said.

The relaxed measures were applauded when Gov. Tom Wolf announced them last month. They mark the state’s most lenient rules to date for businesses since the pandemic started in March 2020.

“With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines improving, and more Americans receiving their shots, it would make sense to begin efforts to repair the Pennsylvania economy by safely easing some restrictions,” said Chuck Moran, executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association.

a man standing in front of a store: Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar © 31, 2021.\rMark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar

In Pennsylvania, the health department said 3.5 million residents have received at least one shot and more than 1.75 million have received two shots and are fully vaccinated. Also on March 31, state officials announced everyone over the age of 16 will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines beginning on April 19.

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The accelerated vaccine timetable is anticipated to boost diners’ confidence about eating indoors. Yet, health officials have advised about moving too quickly. So far, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for fully vaccinated people only applies to private settings.

The accelerated vaccine timetable is anticipated to boost diners’ confidence about eating indoors. Yet, health officials have advised about moving too quickly. So far, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for fully vaccinated people only applies to private settings.

a display in a store: Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar © 31, 2021.\rMark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar

Dodge City Steakhouse owner Doug Krick welcomes the relaxed restrictions at a time when business is bouncing back. In the past month, he said weekends have been busier. The Harrisburg city restaurant is accepting Easter Sunday reservations but doesn’t anticipate room for walk-ins.

“We think it’s going to be a help. We think it’s going to be an incentive for people to come out, but as it is we are turning away people on Friday and Saturday because of the [lack of] seating,” Krick said.

Restaurant owners say the relaxed regulations don’t solve all of their problems. Many like Krick say increased occupancy is good for large restaurants but irrelevant at Dodge City due to space constraints. He said they can barely accommodate 50% occupancy - let alone 75% - due to the configuration of the dining rooms.

a group of people sitting at a table eating food: Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar © 31, 2021.\rMark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar

Also, Krick said it has been hard to plan because the state didn’t immediately send out guidance about the relaxed restrictions. It was issued on April 1.

“We get most of our information from the news on TV than any official government agency, which has been my frustration for a year,” Krick said.

Seating also is an issue at Subway Cafe in Harrisburg, where co-owner Fotios Lamnatos said they have about eight tables open under the social distancing requirements. The only extra seating will be made available at the bar or outdoor tables.

a man standing in front of a store: Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar © 31, 2021.\rMark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar

Seating aside, Lamnatos said the biggest struggle is hiring help. The restaurant is operating with two servers and limited kitchen staff.

“It’s going to help but the other side is I don’t have any employees. It’s good they are going to open up the bars. I will get a little more busy. It’s a good idea, if you have the help,” he said.

a store in a brick building: Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar © 31, 2021.\rMark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar

Kalathas agreed the applicant pool is dried up, likely on account of enhanced unemployment benefits, something he said will resolve itself. Many bar owners like Kalathas welcome the return of bar seating, which has been absent since the Wolf administration banned it last summer.

Establishments can now resume happy hours and serve during late night televised sporting events.

“The difference now is the single person is going to come out, where he couldn’t come out before because he had to sit at a table or he had to get something to eat,” Kalathas said. “That’s the business that was lost on my end.”

a group of people sitting at a table in front of a window: Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar © 31, 2021.\rMark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar © 31, 2021.\rMark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com/pennlive.com/TNS Gilligan's Bar & Grill owner George Lois and his son Kosta Lois in their casual fine dining restaurant on the Carlisle Pike in Hampden Township, Pa., Mar
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