Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Friday that D.C. will officially move into Phase Two of reopening today. The move comes just three weeks after the District entered Phase One, which allowed restaurants to welcome dine-in customers for the first time in months. They could seat patrons, no more than six to a table, outside. Those restaurants that already had spaces like patios and outdoor gardens prepared to open immediately, while others faced logistical issues. Now, all restaurants that choose to move into Phase Two are doing so with a significant amount of caution based on the trials and errors of Phase One.
“We don’t have an outdoor seating patio area,” says Granville Moore’s owner Ryan Gordon. The H Street NE Belgian restaurant completely closed in March and relaunched at the end of May as Granville Moore’s Pasta Place. Gordon hoped the city would allow him to set up tables on the sidewalk or street so the restaurant could participate in Phase One, but the D.C. Department of Transportation and H Street Main Street denied his request. “Being that H Street is such a massive thoroughfare, I get the point that it’s not conducive to what we want to do,” Gordon says.
As city residents tested out outdoor dining elsewhere, Gordon and his team saw a drastic drop in carryout orders. Between this dramatic reduction in sales and the inability to invite customers to dine on the premises, Phase One ended up doing more harm than good to Granville Moore’s bottom line. They pared down their operations to Friday and Saturday nights while they waited for Phase Two to begin. “If we’re losing a lot more than we’re making, I’d rather cut [employee] hours and then they can go back to getting proper unemployment,” Gordon says. “After this is over, we’ll still have jobs for everybody once we get through this.”
Now that Phase Two is here, Gordon isn’t sure he wants to open immediately. “We have a lot of smart people here,” he says. “They’re gonna kind of hesitate to come out right away to indoor dining, so we’ll see how people react and go with the flow.” He doesn’t believe the city’s guidelines are stringent enough to protect staff and customers. “A lot of cities don’t have these strict guidelines, so you’ve got to make your own,” Gordon continues. “We just kind of need to do our own thing if [we] want to stay open.” Granville Moore’s will make everyone wear face masks, do temperature checks on both staff and diners, and keep customer sign-in sheets for contact tracing purposes.
Gordon isn’t the only business approaching Phase Two cautiously. Denizens Brewing Company co-founder Emily Bruno says her team is taking it one day at a time at their breweries. “We’d rather go slow and not have a shutdown than rush into getting more people on site and being shut down again,” she says.
Denizens initially ceased all operations at its Riverdale Park location and only offered carryout and delivery from Silver Spring. When Phase One took effect, the team opened its outdoor beer gardens at both locations. Like Gordon, they saw a dip in carryout sales. “Any revenue we were getting from our on-site [dining] kind of just made up for that, so we’re sort of at a net steady pace as things have unfolded,” Bruno says.
Sales throughout the pandemic period held steady at 50 percent less than previous year’s sales during the same months in Silver Spring. “We haven’t seen a dramatic increase in revenue at all now that people can be back on site,” Bruno says. “It’s not been additive to our overall revenue.” Still, Bruno doesn’t regret opening during Montgomery County’s Phase One because it meant less canning and packaging costs. “Pouring a draft beer is a better profit margin for us than selling a six pack,” she says.
Bruno questions how long Denizens can sustain itself. Because the business makes the majority of its profits in the spring and early summer, Bruno worries about the future and how long employees will stay on if revenue doesn’t start to climb in the coming months. “Our delivery service will operate indefinitely, but that doesn’t help the staff that work for us on-site,” she notes.
For Mr. Braxton Bar & Kitchen owner Booker Parchment, entering Phase One was a relief. While restaurants and bars couldn’t offer on-site consumption, the Park View establishment spent almost three months serving a limited menu for carryout only. They skipped delivery because it’s hard for restaurants to turn a profit when third-party services take significant commission fees. While carryout sales brought in only 10 percent of Mr. Braxton’s typical sales, patio dining has brought them up to about 65 percent.
Parchment invested in making the bar’s patio area an inviting space where people would want to drink and dine, working with local artist Eric B. Ricks on an Alice in Wonderland-inspired mural. It debuted on May 29, right after the city entered Phase One. “The first day was extremely encouraging,” Parchment says. “Revenue numbers were very encouraging … patrons were patient … everyone was following the guidelines and rules that were in place.”
Since the patio opened at Mr. Braxton, it’s been “non-stop.” “We’ve definitely gotten a great deal of support from the local community as well as repeat patrons coming to support us because of being a Black-owned business,” Parchment says. “We’ve even got folks coming fresh from the protests.”
Parchment’s biggest struggle now is staffing. “A lot of folks are out there still being supported by unemployment, as they should, but getting folks to come back, with them not knowing how busy it’s going to be and what income expectations might be, that has proven to be a challenge,” he says. Parchment has re-hired some of his old staff and is also training new employees. As Phase Two kicks off, he hopes to employ 15 people. “We’re pretty happy with the trajectory for revenue as well as with the team that we’re building currently,” he says.
Chef Amy Brandwein, who owns Centrolina and Piccolina in CityCenter DC, has also seen an uptick in overall sales by about 30 percent. Her restaurant was closed for nine days during the protests. She observed a decline in carryout sales, resulting in more patio dining. With 10 tables at Centrolina and another seven at Piccolina available for outdoor dining, both have been thriving.
Brandwein hopes to open up her dining room to welcome guests this week. While some in the area are hesitant to dine on-premises, Brandwein’s patios have been popular and customers have already inquired about indoor dining resuming. “We’re gonna be safe about [it and] spread everybody out,” she says.