AROUND NJ

Restaurants offer outdoor dining as New Jersey reaches Stage 2 reopening

BY Brenda Flanagan, Senior Correspondent |

Restaurant owners carefully set tables six feet apart outdoors on the Asbury Park boardwalk and patrons took an actual seat to eat for the first time after three months of lockdown. Everyone’s hungry for a chance to get back to normal. “I wish we could let people in. But it’s getting there. It’s been tough,” said Anne Sears, owner of Playa Bowls.

Ernest Mignoli, a diner in Asbury, remarked “I think we’ve earned the right, following all the guidelines. So here we are, thank God!” In Hazlet, Raja Banerjee said “Seeing how well New Jersey is been handling the outbreak and handling the pandemic makes it a lot easier for us to come out here and be comfortable doing this.”

Workers installed plastic shields at host stations. Wait staff wearing masks seated an eager lunchtime crowd at the Robinson Ale House. “And I just hope people behave. I hope all the restaurateurs behave, including us. I don’t want to see any stories about mob scenes and people being stupid,”  said restaurateur Tim McLoone.

Eateries restricted to take-out and curbside service only had tightened their belts waiting for permission to reopen. But last week Asbury Park’s city council tried an end run, passing an ordinance to allow indoor dining, as well. The Murphy Administration blocked the move in court. John Moor, the mayor, iss unrepentant “I think it was the right decision, I would do it again in a heartbeat.” He says the city backed down fearing repercussions against its 80 restaurant owners. The threat went to, “oh, we’ll take away liquor licenses and close restaurants and fine ‘em.” So the council would never put a restaurant or a business or a bar into that type of situation.

In fact, Asbury waived $130,000 in outdoor dining fees, but there’s still no date set for indoor dining. The governor today said he’s monitoring COVID-19 data to gauge the pace of reopening “If we opened too quickly, without restoring any consumer confidence, quite simply, there would be no customers. As I have also said, our goal was to get this restart going as quickly as we could, but as safely as we must.”

The shore party scene’s still pretty quiet even though New Jersey issued more than 640 temporary outdoor liquor licenses. Dallas Hlatky said Porta’s booked for outdoor dining tonight, “we have a great bar scene and that doesn’t seem to be coming back in the near future and it’s summer. And on a beautiful day like this there would be people lining up to sit down here now.”

Phase 2 also allowed many non-essential businesses to reopen with proper precautions: no more than 50% of a store’s capacity. Shops welcomed customers back all across New Jersey.

Christina Smith went shopping “we just love to be able to touch things, and try things on. This is very important.”

Shoppers at Carla Gizzi’s boutique on Memorial Drive wore masks and practiced social distancing. Gizzi’s revenues have plunged 90 percent over three months, “We can’t wait. Hopefully we’re gonna have lines out the door because everyone’s been itching to get inside.” But her other store at Convention Hall can’t reopen yet because it lacks an exterior entrance. It’s been a difficult road with dead ends for some small shops, according to the chamber of commerce.

The Executive Director of the Asbury Park Chamber of Commerce, Sylvia Sylvia-Cioffi, “There are businesses that can’t recover. I know there are some that have closed.”

Hair salons and barber shops can reopen next Monday. The governor said Phase 3, which could allow expanded dining, could be weeks, not months, away.