Chef José Andrés
Chef José Andrés Credit: Our Local Commons

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Update 10/26: ThinkFoodGroup changed its vaccination policy. Now they only “request” proof of vaccination for people 12 and older who dine indoors. TFG representatives didn’t respond to City Paper’s question about what prompted the change. Staff are still required to be vaccinated.

All ThinkFoodGroup restaurants in the D.C. region now require proof of vaccination to dine indoors for people who are 12 and older. Chef José Andrés‘ local restaurants include Jaleo, Zaytinya, China Chilcano, Oyamel, barmini/minibar, Jaleo in Crystal City, and Spanish Diner in Bethesda. The restaurateur and humanitarian says the pandemic has been a nonstop, ever-changing situation, positioning people like him to make decisions “on the fly.”

“I’m proud that many small businesses have stepped up with smart decisions showing bigger guns the way,” Andrés tells City Paper in a private Twitter exchange. “Businesses shouldn’t be ‘creating’ health guidelines, but the early lack of leadership on the pandemic created many problems.”

He points to February 2020 when his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, was in Japan feeding the crew and passengers quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. “We were writing one of the first if not the first COVID health protocols that was way above CDC guidelines keeping thousands of people healthy even when they were doing god’s work.”

Now Andrés says, “protecting our team is the main goal.” A message on each restaurant’s webpage reads: “ThinkFoodGroup requires all staff and guests over 12 years of age who are dining indoors to be fully vaccinated.” A PoPville reader was the first to spot the news.

Customers who are 12 and older can show their vaccine card, a photo of their card, a government-provided digital record, or Health Pass by CLEAR, according to ThinkFoodGroup representatives.

Back in May, ThinkFoodGroup stepped up to offer newly vaccinated people $50 gift cards so it’s not shocking that they’re now instituting a vaccination policy for workers and customers. What is surprising, however, is that a major restaurant group is joining the list of about 20 other businesses that is largely made up of queer bars and dive bars in residential neighborhoods where most of the clientele is local.

City Paper worked the door the first night Ivy and Coney required proof of vaccination or the negative results of a recent COVID-19 test. The new policy at the Shaw bar wasn’t an issue and most patrons were aware of it before they arrived. What will happen at Andrés’ downtown restaurants that attract locals and tourists alike?

ThinkFoodGroup isn’t on an island. Restaurateur Danny Meyer was the first to announce that he would soon require proof of vaccination to dine inside his Navy Yard businesses, Anchovy Social and Maialino Mare. His policy takes effect Sept. 7. Other full-service restaurants requiring proof of vaccination in some capacity include 2Amys, 1310 Kitchen & Bar, Reverie, and Qui Qui DC.

Dining or drinking indoors, even at places that require proof of vaccination, isn’t a no-risk activity. Vaccines reduce the risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, making them a critical shield. But breakthrough cases can occur in vaccinated people in rare instances. Vaccinated individuals can also spread the virus.

Most new cases of COVID-19 are occurring in pockets of the population that are unvaccinated. Some jurisdictions are mulling universal mandates that would require proof of vaccination for indoor activities as a tool to convince more residents to take the shot.

New York City is the first to actually do it. Starting Aug. 16, Big Apple restaurant workers and customers will have to prove they’ve received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. “If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at an Aug. 3 press conference. 

“USA was supposed to be over 90 vaccinated [by] now,” Andrés says.