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California

Many Napa Valley restaurants (but not French Laundry) reopen. Customers slow to return

A restaurant in Yountville.
A deserted restaurant in Yountville.
(Los Angeles Times)

Restaurants slowly reopened in Napa for in-house dining on Wednesday, but some restaurateurs worried that customers might still be too afraid to come back.

Mauro Pando, owner of Grace’s Table in downtown Napa, began offering customers the opportunity to dine inside in the morning, but only six patrons wanted to be seated at a table. The restaurant is also doing takeout.

“Confidence is something we need to build in the community,” Pando said, wearing a mask and standing at the restaurant’s entrance. “It will be a slow return.”

To keep patrons six feet apart, he removed 17 tables and their chairs. They were loaded in the back of his navy blue pickup parked on the street.

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He is using paper napkins and paper menus.

“I am feeling healthy and strong,” he said. “I feel safe, and I don’t feel nervous. I am happy.”

But Johanna Hill, 45, a waitress at the restaurant, confessed she was “a little bit” scared.

Many people out on the downtown sidewalks did not wear masks.

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Napa County became the first region in the Bay Area to get approval from the state to reopen restaurants for full service with social distancing. Some rural counties have already started this and are taking other steps in gradually reopening the economy.

Lauren Danza, 56, wearing a mask while lining up at another downtown restaurant for takeout, said she was not ready for in-house dining.

“I have an 85-year-old mother who lives with me, and my son is having a newborn baby today,” she said.

Katie Barnes, 31, a masseuse waiting while wearing a mask near Danza, said she was heartbroken that many in town were still entering stores without masks. At a small grocery store where she shops, the employees are all wearing protective gear and a plexiglass shield has been erected at the cash register, she said.

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But when customers enter without masks, the store doesn’t object, she said. “I think it is because they don’t want to lose any customers,” she said.

Eric Keffer, owner of Cole’s Chop House, was getting ready to open his downtown steakhouse at 4:30 p.m.

“We’ve been preparing for the changes for the last three weeks,” he said. He has lost about 40% of his white-linen-covered tables to accommodate distancing, he said.

“A few employees were concerned, but all of them did want to come back,” he said.

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In Yountville, where few people wore masks on the streets, there appeared little rush to reopen.

Michael Minnillo, general manager of the famed French Laundry, said, “We aren’t reopening right away. We haven’t even had that discussion.” A sister restaurant in town was doing takeout and the Bouchon Bakery was open for business.

Rose Solis, 67, a Yountville resident, had to close down her bar, Pancha’s, after St. Patrick’s Day.

“We are the only bar in town,” said Solis, who grew up in Yountville.

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Her customers have been dropping off boxes of vegetables and fruit to get her through the pandemic, she said. “Yesterday, it was a case of wine.”

She opened the bar with her nephew 38 years ago.

“My customers are nagging me to open up,” she said. When she can, she plans to post balloons outside to celebrate.

“We are just holding on,” she said. “What can we do? We didn’t ask for any assistance.”

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She said restaurants in town were planning to reopen for in-house dining in June.


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