SALT LAKE COUNTY — Throughout the pandemic, several bars and restaurants have scaled back offerings.
Some places, like Bourbon House in downtown Salt Lake City, have been closed since last year. Other places, like Café Morelia in Murray, have only offered to-go throughout the pandemic. Now, as more people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine and restrictions are being loosened in some areas, bar and restaurant owners are preparing for the next phase.
David Gonzalez is the owner of Café Morelia. Next month, the dining room is going to be opening back up for the first time in a year.
“It is going to be a challenge because for the last year, everything has been kind of backwards, so now we need to get it back on track again,” he said.
The dining room has been transformed into a warehouse and the restaurant has been working with a skeleton crew. Now, Gonzalez said they need to hire and train employees to offer in-person dining again.
“We need to just figure out how we are going to service people in safe way. I think that is going to be the biggest challenge,” he said.
Bourbon House re-opened for the first time last weekend but is only opening on a small scale right now.
“We also want to make sure that we are doing it the right way, so that we are not going backwards at all,” said Matt Crandall, the director of food and beverage with Bourbon Group.
Despite being able to open fully, Crandall said the tables will still be distanced and they are focused on moving forward with baby steps.
Bourbon Group also owns White Horse and Whiskey Street, which have remained open.
The state-wide mask mandate in Utah is expected to be lifted April 10. Gonzalez said he will continue to require masks at his restaurant.
“I have to protect my employees, my staff and also my customers,” he said.
Most restaurant and bar owners seem to still be planning on requiring masks, according to Michele Corigliano, the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association's executive director.
“What I have heard is that they are going to be following more the CDC guidelines rather than the political guidelines here in Utah,” she said.
Matt Caputo, the owner of Caputos Market, posted a video on Twitter, in which he said asking customers to wear masks last year before the state-wide mask mandate was the hardest part of the pandemic. He asked the public to write to Gov. Spencer Cox and ask him to keep the mask mandate or add hospitality workers to a priority group for vaccines.
“We either need to get them to the front of the line now to get their vaccinations, or Governor Cox needs to veto this bill,” Caputo said.
A spokesperson for the governor’s office said the vaccines are being prioritized by age, and they are sticking with that criteria.
Restaurant and bar owners are focused on the health and safety of customers, as well as their employees, Corigliano said.
“Unfortunately, hospitality workers were never put on the priority list for vaccines, so until we see the herd immunity, especially among the employee group, I don’t think anyone is going to be going back to no masks,” she said.
Café Morelia is planning to open for in-person dining April 1. Bourbon House opened last weekend for the first time. For now, the bar is only open Friday and Saturday evenings.
For more information on COVID-19 in Utah, click here.