Louisville’s restaurateurs and hospitality workers can tell you exactly where they were when they first got wind of Governor Andy Beshear’s March 16th order to close dine-in service. Just as many can recall the first questions that ran through their minds.

How am I going to pay bills?
Will my regulars accept takeout options?
How am I going to pay my employees?
How long will this go on?

Their questions were rooted in one all-encompassing concern: where do we go from here?

When the news came across the airwaves of WFPL, I was in my car driving into Food & Dining Magazine HQ. Our Spring 2020 issue had just been distributed. We had time to game plan for the summer, I thought, and the implications of Governor Beshear’s orders kept running through my mind like a Wall Street price ticker. Almost a dozen restaurants were due to open in the next six weeks. Would this carry over into Derby season?

My thinking was cut short when my phone rang. It was Chef, calling about my other job.

“Hey, I’m sure you heard about the shutdowns,” he started, “we’ve gotta lay everybody off. I’m sorry, bud.” I understood. It was business. That business — like most — is somebody’s dream, but it’s still a business. What he said next turned out to be the most important part.

“Go file your unemployment. We’ll get you back on the line as soon as we can.”

It was the sort of prudent advice that panicking can cause you to overlook. As someone with two jobs impacted by the Governor’s order, it was a helpful reminder. The early onset of the bad news also turned out to be an important head start.

Having gotten my own affairs in order, the next concern was how to utilize the magazine’s platform. Like Robin Garr, City Concierge and Local Plug 502, we decided to keep a running list of restaurants operating on a takeout and delivery basis. We were lucky enough to have help from our readers and even the staff of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Now, after two months of to-go service, Kentucky restaurants are able to re-open their dining rooms so long as they adhere to Gov. Beshear’s “Healthy at Work” requirements. The requirements include a slew of shoulds and a handful of musts (a distinction that caused some confusion early on).

Orders listed under the must column include:

  • Limiting the dining room to 33% capacity (or less if needed to maintain six feet of social distancing)
  • Restricting access to common areas to avoid congregating
  • Sanitizing frequently-touched surfaces
  • Requiring employees to wear face masks and gloves
  • Signage to alert employees and diners to all of these.

Most restaurants will likely address these requirements the old fashioned way with tape measures and bleach solutions. Others, like 21st Amendment Tavern in Germantown, are finding creative solutions like deploying ions from “ozone generators” overnight.

The should column is much more expansive, though it does provide one suggestion that restaurateurs are eagerly embracing: they should take advantage of outdoor seating options. To aid in the endeavor, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Public Works have waived application fees for permits that would allow restaurants to place seating on public property. Ciao, Diamond Station, Galaxie, Hilltop Tavern, Liege & Dairy and Monnik Beer Co. have all applied for additional seating.

The owners of Chik’n & Mi took a unique approach to the patio seating exception by moving the business down Brownsboro Road to the (now former) home of Hearth on Mellwood Eatery, where there is considerable outdoor space. Jason McCollum, owner of the restaurants, said that the decision also was driven by Chik’n & Mi’s strong client base as well as forecasts for upscale dining in the coming years.

Re-opening announcements by Anoosh Bistro, Buck’s, Captain’s Quarters and Steak & Bourbon, among others, have been met with excitement from local diners online (no word on reopening for the shuttered Steak ‘n Shakes, however). An employee at Grassa Gramma confirmed that they would be opening their dining room, but the first two days were already completely booked as of Thursday afternoon.

Despite the long hiatus, however, not all restaurateurs are shifting to reopen dine-in service. Wiltshire Pantry owner Susan Hershberg said in a Facebook message that they have not yet finalized a reopening date; Pints&union in New Albany and Charlestown Pizza Company have decided to monitor progress in the Hoosier state before making a final decision; and Courtney Zachari of Come Back Inn had this to say about the reopening process:

We are taking things day by day for the time being. Our restaurant is in a building from the 1800’s and while it has been updated since then, we don’t have windows/doors that we can open to properly ventilate. It’s a small place with about 20 tables. …Our main priority is to keep our staff and our guests safe and healthy. We are looking at outside dining options, but we have no date set for reopening for in-house dining.

While our dining scene adjusts to its new normal, I have two favors to ask of you, our readers.

First, be exceedingly patient and generous with the hospitality staffs. We’re adjusting along with you, after all.

Second, as Food & Dining Magazine is hard at work compiling an updated guide, send any leads and thoughts to socialmedia@foodanddine.com.

F&D’s Tim Laird joins Kevin Harned in this video (KY Restaurants Reopen – Changes to Keep You Safe) from Fleur de Lis Communications on Vimeo.