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Local 5 - weareiowa.com | Des Moines Local News & Weather | Des Moines, Iowa

Winterset restaurant explains why they're waiting to reopen

The Northside Cafe is focusing on customer and employee safety, even though the state will allow patrons to dine-in starting Friday.

WINTERSET, Iowa — Restaurants and other businesses in 77 Iowa counties will be able to reopen with certain restrictions starting Friday.

Gov. Kim Reynolds is lifting some COVID-19 restrictions in locations where the virus spread is trending downward.

Scott Valencia, owner of the Northside Cafe in Winterset, spoke with Local 5 about why his restaurant won't immediately reopen their dining area.

Local 5: Hundreds of Iowa restaurant owners and businesses now are making plans about reopening on Friday. 

Not everyone though is jumping right on to that immediately. 

Let's bring in Scott Valencia of the famous Northside cafe in Winterset. 

A lot of people will remember the restaurant from the movie "The Bridges of Madison County", a very well-known restaurant here in Iowa. So many people think, 'Well, everybody's just gonna fly right back into this restaurant situation. We're all going to be coming in there and chowing down.'

And I know you have said that you're going to take a little bit more of a slower approach. Why is that?

Scott Valencia, Northside Cafe: Well, I think the first thing I want to say is we appreciate both, you know, the president giving the governors of all the states the ability to make business decisions for the states and the governor of Iowa wanting to go out there and jump on ... getting things open very quickly. 

But you know, it's the responsibility of the individual business owners to know their business and to know whether or not this is the right thing. And if you had asked, I believe most restaurants ... the ability to give good customer service, to maintain quality and to actually make a profit when you're only allowed to utilize 50% of your actual building. It puts us in a pretty dire predicament, both from a financial standpoint, and also from the ability to make sure that our customers are going to be safe and that our staff is going to be safe. 

Most kitchens are very small and keeping the six-foot distance is going to be very difficult. And, at least in our business, probably about a third to half of our customers are probably over the age of 65 and so when we looked at this, it seemed to make more sense both fiscally and from a safety standpoint to go ahead and take this a little bit slower and make sure that we're doing the right thing. 

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Local 5: I would imagine if you've got to get 100% of your kitchen back in operations so that you can do everything your customers want prepared, but you've only got 50% of the seats maybe at best, that's probably a metric that's maybe difficult for you to be successful with right out of the gate. 

Valencia: Well, it's more than that. Right now there's still constraint on product, it's hard for us to get meat product, they're having a hard time getting it to grocery stores. So restaurants are going to have a hard time maintaining the inventory that they're going to need right off the bat if you're going to open up to a full menu. That's a very difficult situation in order to manage. 

And then yeah, even more than that. I mean, how do you tell a customer that ... you've got half your seat and half your seats empty and you're gonna have to stand outside and wait until a seat opens up? 

I mean, just from a customer service standpoint, it's just a really difficult situation to manage. 

WATCH: Complete coronavirus coverage from Local 5 on YouTube