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First week of reopening slow for some local restaurants



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Turkuaz Café is located at 301 E. Third St. Restaurants must strictly obey social distancing guidelines. Alex Deryn

Monroe County’s extended stay-at-home order ended May 15, and the county began to reopen the economy. Restaurants were permitted to reopen at 50% capacity, while following social distancing guidelines.  

“We resumed business as usual,” said Marina Ballor-Fiore, co-owner of Le Petit Café.

But Ballor-Fiore said she and her husband are lucky to get six customers in a night.

Shafik Nawab, manager of Turkuaz Café, has had similar experiences. He said the cafe, which is owned by his daughter, had only one dine-in table by 3 p.m. Friday but is getting enough income from take-out orders to stay open.

Ballor-Fiore said the restaurant was taking several measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including avoiding using the air conditioner after she saw reports that an air-conditioned restaurant may have contributed to the earlier spread of the virus. 

She also said they removed half of their tables and they've been opening the garage door to their space, which opens onto the dining room, in order to facilitate fresh air flow. They also cut down staff to only Ballor-Fiore and her husband, in order to reduce the amount of people coming in contact with customers and food. 

Both Nawab and Ballor-Fiore said their staffs are wearing masks and cleaning their entire restaurants regularly. 

Cindy Shields, machine operator and Bloomington resident, said she had eaten at Viva Mas, Cheddars and El Rancho since reopening and had good experiences everywhere. 

As a self-professed germophobe, she said she brings her own plastic utensils to restaurants, a practice that predates the pandemic. She said the restaurants have put in place numerous new practices to maintain sanitation standards and customer confidence, including markings on floors to ensure social distancing, one-use paper menus, offers of one-use plastic utensils, the use of only every other table or booth, regularly cleaned tables and staff in masks.

“We need to keep going out and living our lives," she said. "We can’t just stay at home all the time.”

In contrast, Abigail Al-Omari, furloughed estate and downsizing specialist and Bloomington resident, hasn't gone out to eat at all since the shut-down. 

“It’s not worth it to infect me and my two kids and my husband to get like a cheeseburger,” she said. 

However, she said she has also seen some benefits to ordering take-out instead of eating in. She said she celebrated her wedding anniversary on May 25, and she and her husband were able to each order what they wanted — he got Five Guys, and she got Longhorn Steakhouse — and happily eat together at home, while their children were at their grandmother's house. 

Nawab said Turkuaz Café is relying on their customers to stay afloat.

Turkuaz could not pay rent for one month during the shut-down, and while they are working with the landlord to pay back in installments, Nawab said the future of the restaurant is uncertain.

“If people don’t support, we will lose the business,” Nawab added. 

Ballor-Fiore said she had some similar concerns about money, and both mentioned that they had not received or applied for any loans or grants for small businesses. Ballor-Fiore called the federal loans, at least in their initial form, a “farce.”

“The government was supposed to help us, but they don’t,” Nawab said. “They help big companies, not us, all the money goes to bigger companies, rich companies.”

After running the Le Petit Café for 43 years, Ballor-Fiore said they are looking at the end of the road for the business anyway. She also said customers have been very supportive, coming by on weekends to pick up brunch boxes and other to-go orders, and that this support is something she finds amazing about Bloomington. 

“In times of crisis, in difficult times, it’s really good to know that people are there for you, that you can count on them,” she said.“I love that.”

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