Capi Peck, the longtime restaurateur, owner of top-rated restaurant Trio’s Restaurant and a Little Rock city director, was shocked today at Governor Hutchinson’s announcement that restaurants would be allowed to reopen May 11. “How fucking absurd, May 11,” she exclaimed. “As you can tell, I’m wound up.”
Peck, who closed dine-in at Trio’s before the mandated closures on March 20, has been doing curbside and home delivery, was hoping for a June 8 delivery, but preparing for May 25, because she knew the governor was getting a lot of pressure from restaurant people “who were just ready to roll the dice.” She is not.
New cases of community spread of the virus spiked on March 31, according to test results. The past week has seen an average rise since a low point on April 15. (Results indicate test results, rather than true virus spread in the population.) There were 81 new cases reported today, none from the outbreak at Cummins prison.
The new regulations will mean restaurants will open at about 33 percent occupancy, with parties, no larger than 10, spread 6 feet from others. Staff will wear masks and gloves and screen patrons with questions on temperature and symptoms; patrons must also wear masks until after they order. Staff will have temps taken daily.
“I didn’t even have to think twice about it,” Peck said. “The main thing is, to subject my staff to the public? You can’t serve someone [safely] after they order and take their masks off. How am I going to take you a plate or pour out a glass of wine?”
Peck said opening too soon runs the risk of another spike in infections, and another closure order. Her food delivery system, which has cut her business back by 40 to 35 percent, “but I’d rather be safe at 60.” She’s given her waiters a raise to make up for the lack of tips they rely on. “I’m going to be patient and open when it makes sense to open.”
Hutchinson announced the state has created a $15 million grant program to help businesses buy personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, masks and gloves to build “consumer confidence” that the places they patronize will be safe. She’ll apply for the state grant to protect both staff and customers, at the right time, but she’s leery of consumer confidence. “I’m not a confident consumer,” she said, citing a Chinese model that showed how one asymptomatic person in a restaurant infected nine others she’d come in contact with.
The issue of liability on the part of restaurant owners is another unsolved issue. It’s possible, she said, that people who come in thinking they’re “bulletproof” from the virus will blame the restaurant if they later contract COVID-19.
Peck said she was pleased that Mayor Frank Scott Jr. was listening to the industry’s concerns and that she was sure that Trio’s would not be the only restaurant to stay closed past May 11.