Blount County restaurant owners anticipate reopening half capacity after COVID-19 restrictions

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MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Gov. Bill Lee announced Thursday that starting Monday, restaurants in 85 counties could reopen at half dining room capacity.

Although the guidelines to reopen would be released Friday, restaurant owners have some plans in place to keep their employees and customers safe.

Ray Schwartz, owner of Foothills Milling Company, said his restaurants have been following the guidelines before they were even in place locally.

Schwartz also owns Hot Rod’s and The Hop 50’s Drive-in.

His employees started wearing masks on April 3rd and his restaurants were at half capacity before that. He also added hand sanitizer inside and outside the restaurant.

Schwartz started taking online orders and added a lunch menu.

To handle the changes, he turned the bar area into a bakery and to-go set up.

Schwartz said he wanted to hear about the earlier than expected reopening from local leaders before making any plans to reopen at half capacity, but any changes he made would take longer than the weekend.

When he does reopen to half capacity, he plans to keep a lot of the newer safety practices that he implemented early on.

“Still give some people curbside even though, that just in case they’re afraid still to come out. We’ll be at whatever we’re allowed to do. If we’re at 50 percent capacity, we’ll definitely comply. And we were at 50 percent capacity weeks before, on our own,” Schwartz said.

Customers will also have something to look forward from Foothills Milling Company once everything goes back to normal.

Schwartz said he plans to reopen the bakery at a nearby location so they can keep the lunch menu available.

At another restaurant close by, the owner is still getting his feet wet as a bar owner.

Matt Roberts bought Waterfront Bar and Grill about two weeks ago.

Fortunately for him, a lot of changes were implemented before he took over the restaurant.

He said that Monday would be too soon to open at half capacity, because he has a lot of move around and he is waiting on some sanitizer to come in.

Roberts said he already had some ideas of what else the bar needs to do to reopen safely.

“We’re also going to be switching over to plastic silverware and plates, so that we don’t have to touch the dirty dishes as often, we don’t have to wash their dishes, we just throw everything straight in the trash. Wipe down all the tables with sanitizer and bleach, make sure everything is cleaned after every guest, that way we can ensure a clean meal as possible for everybody,” Roberts said.

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