Restaurant dining rooms have back open in limited capacity in St. Louis for weeks now, but that hasn't come without road bumps for many local establishments. Left and right, social media accounts for restaurants have announced temporary closures of restaurants following staff members testing positive for COVID-19.
St. Louis-based barbecue chain Salt + Smoke was one of those that closed down. On July 18, Salt + Smoke announced on Twitter that all five locations would be temporarily closed following a staff member testing positive at its Delmar Loop, Central West End and St. Charles locations. Because Salt + Smoke was following all CDC regulations, the restaurant was not required to close; however, in light of recent COVID-19 cases in the area, the team decided to pause operations. But when the restaurants reopened July 22, there was one major change: None of the location's dining rooms would reopen for the time being.
Owner Tom Schmidt says that the decision was not taken lightly. He knew that revenue would take a significant hit, and he also knew that he would have to lay off the nearly 150 staff members who had recently come back to work. But the news of the case alarmed both staff members and customers, and the team at Salt + Smoke decided to revert to carryout and delivery only to keep people as safe as possible while still running the business.
"We wanted to limit exposure any way that we could," Schmidt says.
Schmidt says that the team will not consider reopening the dining room until the virus gets to a more controlled situation. He doesn't know whether that would take lower cases, a vaccine or something else, but for the meantime, the only way to get Salt + Smoke is to get it to go.
Some restaurants are also deciding to shut down their dining rooms even without a positive COVID-19 case. Central West End's Juniper announced via Twitter that this would be the last week its dining room would be open, and that the restaurant would continue solely through carryout operations.
"My decision to shut down was really about making peace with the inevitable," Juniper owner John Perkins said in an email to Feast. "Most of our 'dine-in' business has been on the patio, and we have maybe two to three months left of that and then what? It seemed wise, although hard to do, to simply push fast forward and focus on something we can control and maintain regardless of government decree or public sentiment. Folks still need food, and we are prepared to provide that to them. For the foreseeable future, our model will strictly be carryout and now delivery as well."
Elmwood in Maplewood, Missouri, announced via Instagram on July 23 that it would also be closing its dining room for now.
"The rising numbers locally and nationally are too great to ignore, too great to leave to hope," the post reads, in reference to rising COVID-19 cases.
Elmwood co-owner Chris Kelling says that the decision was made to put his employees first. He says that safety is a spectrum, and that one person might feel safe in a place where another person doesn't, but the team relied on its own level of comfort.
"We made the decision based on how we feel," Kelling says. "Our number one priority as employers has always been to provide a clean and safe working environment, and we didn't feel we were doing that."
Kelling also doesn't know when things will feel safe enough to open Elmwood to diners again, but the team is going to have some fun with the flexibility in the meantime. Soon, the restaurant will transition from its typical modern American menu to a pizza pop-up concept. Follow Elmwood's social media accounts to watch for more details. But don't worry – you can still get their popular bottled cocktails to-go.