In the first episode of our podcast, "Scene in San Diego Featuring Eater," we explore the state of our local food scene in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. From face masks and plastic barriers to eating outside, San Diego’s restaurant scene is a new world – at least for now.
Listen to Episode 1 here:
Episode 1 Show Notes: Restaurants Reopen, But What Now?
Why We’re Here:
Here we are, launching our podcast in the middle of a pandemic. We never imagined our show would go in this direction. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, many local restaurants have reopened, adapted, or entirely changed the way they operate. And, with those changes, there is so much to talk about. We want you to know that – just like you – we’re learning to navigate all this change, every day. It’s awkward. It’s difficult. It’s different. Let’s figure it out, together.
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Hospitality, But How?
With social distancing and other safety guidelines in place at local restaurants, the hospitality industry has been turned upside down. Eater San Diego's Candice Woo often hears from restaurateurs who say that keeping the welcoming vibe of the hospitality industry is a real challenge when there are literal masks and barriers keeping us apart inside restaurants. The conversations where restaurant employees have to enforce mask rules on patrons can’t be fun to have. We hear from San Diego’s own Sam “The Cooking Guy” Zien about what it’s like out there for those who are trying to work in the hospitality industry. Sam The Cooking Guy currently runs two restaurants in San Diego, both in Little Italy: Not Not Tacos and Graze by Sam. Both eateries are up and running again and he explains what the set-up at Graze looks like these days.
Streetside Dining in San Diego:
The reopening of San Diego’s restaurants has brought much change, including dining al fresco in our city’s foodie hubs. Little Italy was the first community to pilot this program along parts of India Street – a perfect place for that European outdoor café vibe. You can read all about that here. A week later, the Gaslamp Quarter in downtown San Diego rolled out its outdoor dining plan, which closes a stretch of Fifth Avenue a few days a week to make room for eateries to extended their dining areas outside. Five restaurants joined that launch, including BarleyMash, Café Sevilla and El Chingon. Read all about that here. Oh, and if you’re wondering, exactly, what that streetside dining scene looked like in the Gaslamp Quarter, check this out. Liberty Station is also testing out the outdoor dining – and the are certainly has the space for it.
Extra Tips + Restaurant Restrictions:
To help restaurants follow the reduced capacity guidelines, call ahead and make reservations. You might not always get the exact time you want, so be flexible. Remember to bring your face mask and wear it any time you’re not seated at your table. Temper your expectations; restaurant service is so different these days. As patrons, we should practice patience. Everyone is doing their best to make this work with so many restrictions in place. Today, at all reopened dining rooms, you’ll spot signage with these new rules, social distancing, masks, and even physical barriers. Sam The Cooking Guy explains how his staff at Graze is smiling underneath those face masks, working hard to make guests feel comfortable even in these strange circumstances.
COVID-19 Case at Nolita Hall in Little Italy
The owner of Nolita Hall, Douglass Hamm, said one of his employees had tested positive for COVID-19 just a couple weeks after the restaurant reopened. Hamm said Nolita Hall would reopen on June 30. For now, any staff who came into contact with the infected employee is under self-quarantine. Hamm told the public about the COVID-19 case via social media, saying he wanted to be transparent and build trust with his customers and staff. Hamm said there’s no way for a restaurant owner to know what to do in a situation like this, but he thinks he did “the right thing.”
Community Outbreaks, Including at Restaurants:
As more of San Diego reopens, a surge in COVID-19 cases is expected. And, now that people are going places, community outbreaks have followed. As of June 22, 2020, San Diego County health officials had tracked 10 community outbreaks in seven days, including two at local restaurants. Health officials won’t say which restaurants, though, citing privacy concerns.
The Scene in San Diego Feat. Eater Podcast is hosted by NBC 7’s Monica Garske and Eater San Diego’s Candice Woo, and is produced by NBC 7’s Matthew Lewis.