'We’re really excited to see our regulars'
Streator’s downtown was seeing a steady stream of pedestrian traffic Friday morning as restaurants opened for indoor dining for the first time since mid-March.
A return to some form of normalcy came with the Phase 4 reopening and Streator’s restaurants were back to their normal morning customers.
“Honestly, it’s great to see our customers again and get back to some form of normal,” said Shenaz Muratoski, who owns Al’s Place with her husband, Nick. “It’s a little hectic because we’re keeping outdoor seating for now in case customers don’t want to be indoors.”
Al’s Place is following guidelines, keeping tables at least six feet apart and having their wait staff wear masks.
Muratoski said handling the pandemic took a lot of patience and that patience will have to continue in the future.
“It’s just tough keeping up with everything at once, especially for our staff,” Muratoski said. “Every time we would get properly adjusted we’d find out things were changing again. Patience is everything right now.”
Cinthia Urena was already in the middle of an adjustment; she took over the Country Cupboard in Streator just before the stay-at-home order went into place.
Urena said business Friday started slowly but she expects it to pick up as people become more comfortable with dining in.
“This is very different for us; it’s very strange,” Urena said. “It’s not what I expected when I took over and it’s really difficult. I didn’t know what to do but we’ve had so much from carryouts and deliveries. Streator is the best place to have a business like this.”
Urena preached the same patience Muratoski mentioned; nobody is sure quite what will happen next.
“We’re staying positive; God has gotten us through this and we’ll continue learning from this experience,” Urena said.
Ottawa’s restaurants saw the same surge in customers.
Sunfield manager Alison Reyes said business picked up considerably Friday once diners were allowed to eat indoors.
“It got better once we were allowed to do outdoor dining but today’s been considerably busier,” Reyes said. “We’ve been good about staying under capacity and customers have been good with waiting a little bit for space to clear up. We’ve had a lot of phone calls.”
Owner Max Salihi said adjusting to the COVID-19 regulations was a learning experience, something he never expected to deal with.
Reyes agreed and said being patient and adaptable was key to making it through.
“We took everything on a minute-t-minute, day-to-day basis, and while it was a little scary, it worked,” Reyes said. “We’ll have to continue our patience as things change.”
Hank’s Farm owner Marie Koepke said the restaurant on Route 71 just outside of Ottawa is having to adjust because even with indoor dining, they aren’t allowed to do things they're well-known for, like the salad bar and Sunday brunch.
Hank’s has been serving curbside meals since March and they’ve recently offered outdoor dining, but Koepke said there is more to outdoor dining and pick-up meals than people realize: The extra preparation work and running adds up, and there’s items such as availability of produce and meat customers probably notice at the grocery store.
She said they are prepared to serve people indoors safely; they have seen what has happened in other states with outbreaks and intend to go above and beyond to make sure they can open without having that happen here.
“We’ve mapped out every inch of our building and we’re taking as many precautions as possible,” Koepke said. “It makes you so much more aware of how close you are to people. Six feet is so far away and masks make communication more difficult, so that’s another adjustment.”
Koepke said not being able to see facial expressions has been a difficult adjustment in general because typically in a conversation a smile is obvious, but with masks it means having to be more outgoing with conversation.
“We’re really excited to see our regulars and of course the employees we haven’t been seeing on a regular basis,” Koepke said. “We’ve all been isolated so now we just want to see everyone. We’re excited to get back into the groove.”