For the first time in three months, couple Roy and Twila Ernst sat face to face at a table inside a cafe.
Isaac’s Downtown, along with many restaurants throughout Yamhill, Polk and Marion counties, resumed indoor service Friday.
The couple sipped coffee and shared a slice of cake while navigating on their phones. Roy got his first coronavirus vaccine shot last week, and they were trying to schedule an appointment for Twila to get hers.
Gov. Brown’s office announced Tuesday that, as of Friday, 10 more Oregon counties were cleared to move from the “extreme risk” category for coronavirus spread down to the orange coded “high risk” category.
The distinction meant a decreasing level of stringency for rules affecting restaurants, churches, gyms and other areas of indoor recreation.
Vaccination rollout: Oregon will offer COVID-19 vaccines to the general public by July 1
Though these spaces are only allowed to operate at 25% of capacity, or a maximum of 50 people indoors for buildings of any size, there was still excitement in the community about a return to something that felt a little closer to normal.
At Isaac’s, the rule means the cafe is limited to seating 14 guests at a time, despite the large square footage of the sunny space at 201 Commercial St. NE.
Operator Tiffany Bulgin and her staff posted several signs, one on the door and duplicate versions throughout the cafe reminding guests to follow guidelines regarding mask-wearing and physical distancing. The signs explicitly asked guests to limit their time in the coffee shop to the time it takes them to enjoy their food and beverages, a maximum of 45 minutes.
Bulgin explained that while it’s so nice to see familiar faces, she and her staff intentionally left certain seating areas blocked off as visual reminders to customers. It’s nice to be able to offer dine-in, she said, but the county is still high risk.
Across the street at Busick Court, servers carried big plates of hashbrowns and eggs into the dining room.
Ashley Lady, who has worked as a server at the restaurant for the past five years, expressed excitement to return to work.
Related: COVID-19 restrictions on dining, gyms and worship services loosen in Marion, Polk counties
Since what was meant to be a two-week “freeze” on indoor dining began in November, the restaurant has only been open on weekends, which meant Lady, like so many other laid off restaurant workers, was getting by on unemployment compensation.
“It’s enough,” he said, “but it’s only just enough.” Returning to regular work, and, he hopes, regular tips, will mean a return to a more sustainable wage.
Busick Court owner Jim Madden said though they were excited to return to offering indoor service, it’s been difficult to staff up to accommodate regular hours. Many of their previous staff, he said, have left the food and beverage sector altogether.
A few blocks away, at Brown’s Towne Lounge, sisters Cathy Hoffman and Michelle Howell resumed, for the first time in a year, their Friday tradition of going out for lunch. The pair were joined by Howell’s adult children Brett and Mackenzie, and the group was all smiles.
What did they order?
“I don’t even remember,” Mackenzie said. “We’re just happy to be here together.”
Emily Teel is the Food & Drink Editor at the Statesman Journal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook, or Twitter. See what she’s cooking and where she’s eating this week on Instagram: @emily_teel
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