A restaurant in Little Italy that temporarily closed last month after an employee tested positive for COVID-19 will delay its reopening, citing the surge of COVID-19 cases in San Diego County as a cause for concern.
Nolita Hall, located on India Street, shuttered on June 14, announcing on social media that a staff member had contracted COVID-19. The owner of the restaurant, Douglass Hamm, had planned to reopen on June 30. His plans have since changed, as local public health officials report increases in COVID-19 cases in San Diego County.
Hamm sent a letter to his staff last week and shared part of that letter on social media so he could keep customers in the loop and continue to gain their trust – a big part of why he said he shared the news of the positive COVID-19 case among his employee in the first place.
The social media post said the staff member who had COVID-19 is “doing well,” and no other Nolita Hall employees have tested positive.
In the letter, Hamm calls COVID-19 a “nightmare” that won’t end.
“Just when we thought we were waking up to a bright light in the distance, it seems to have started to dim again,” the note read, in part. “Still, in spite of all this, we remain eternal optimists and have hope, confidence even, that the light will begin to shine soon and in the end it will be brighter than it ever was.”
Hamm’s letter said Nolita Hall will stay closed a few weeks beyond its June 30 target date.
“Short term, it’s gut-wrenching on many levels,” he writes. “But given the continuing increase in positive tests county and nationwide, we believe this is the right thing to do for the health and safety of you all and our guests.”
Scene in San Diego
Hamm said he knows this is the best decision for his restaurant, his staff and his patrons, but that doesn't mean every restaurant owner should follow suit. Every restaurant owner's decision, Hamm said, has to be made based on the “risks we are willing to take.”
Hamm said he hopes to have his restaurant up and running again by the end of July or early August but noted, “It’s a fool’s errand to try and predict what the next few weeks will look like.”
Eater San Diego reported last month that Nolita Hall was the first restaurant in San Diego to publicly disclose that an employee had tested positive for COVID-19. Hamm spoke with both Eater and NBC 7 and said that decision was difficult, but he knew it was the “right thing to do.”
Since then, several other local food and beverage businesses – including Wilson Creek Winery & Vineyards in Temecula and Mission Avenue Bar & Grill and Masters Kitchen & Cocktail, both in Oceanside, have shared news of employee COVID-19 cases at their locations.
In those cases, the businesses spread the news on social media, too, hoping to also be transparent with patrons and keep safety top of mind.
On NBC 7’s Scene in San Diego Featuring Eater podcast, we talked about Nolita Hall and how this type of thing was bound to repeat itself at local restaurants as San Diego County reopens in the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. You can listen to that here.
Meanwhile, San Diego County public health officials have been tracking more community outbreaks in recent days, and several of those outbreaks have been tied to local restaurants or bars.
At a news briefing Wednesday, health officials said San Diego County was on California’s “watchlist” and, by next week, a rollback on San Diego’s reopening was likely, including shutting down indoor restaurant dining rooms once more.
San Diego's restaurants were given the green light to reopen their dining rooms on May 21. Since then, neighborhoods like Little Italy and the Gaslamp Quarter have launched curbside dining programs that block traffic on busy streets during certain hours, allowing eateries to extend their dining areas into the street and give patrons more room to safely distance themselves from one another. Encinitas is due to roll out its own version of this program this weekend, too.