Among local COVID-19 cases, restaurants were the second most-common place people reported going in the 14 days prior to the onset of their illness, according to Tri-County Health Department data.
Littleton restaurants saw their final indoor diners for the near future on Nov. 20, in the final hours before heightened restrictions to slow surging COVID-19 cases took effect.
At Palenque Cocina, general manager Marisa Vera said the restaurant shut down indoor dining earlier in the day, before the 5 p.m. deadline, to give staff time to prepare for a return to a takeout-only format.
The saddest part, Vera said, was taking much of the wait staff off the schedule for the foreseeable future. Palenque is down to just 10 staff, from a high of 70 before the pandemic, she said.
“This is scarier than spring,” Vera said, referring to previous health orders that suspended indoor dining for weeks in March, April and May.
Back then, Congress rolled out expanded unemployment benefits, stimulus checks and the Paycheck Protection Program, funds which softened the impact of shutdown orders. This time, there's no clear indication more federal help is coming.
“We'll be lucky if any of the restaurants down here can make it until spring,” she said.
Dine-in, even at 50% capacity, had been going pretty well, Vera said, though management posted a large sign at the entrance asking those who object to wearing face masks to get take-out or go somewhere else.
“Our staff has been unnecessarily mistreated & we will no longer tolerate any form of verbal or physical abuse,” the sign reads.
“We had a lot of pushback on masks,” Vera said, adding that some patrons who confronted her about the mask policy told her to “go back where she came from.”
“People are on edge,” Vera said. “I get it. But we're in this situation, with cases rising and more restrictions, because people weren't taking this seriously enough.”
Down the street at the Melting Pot fondue restaurant, Candice Honderd and several family members walked out to the parking lot unsure when their next family night out will be.
“It's been a rough two weeks,” Honderd said, with some relatives fresh off quarantines after being exposed to positive COVID cases at school. “The food here is amazing, but it's also bittersweet because this is the last get-together for a while. I'm glad we had this.”
At EVOO Marketplace, a shop that sells gourmet oils and vinegars, owner Mike Major said the upcoming Christmas season is his busiest time of year, and hoped the end of dine-in service at local restaurants wouldn't eat into shopping.
Major said he has taken the virus seriously from the start. Customers can only step a few feet into the shop, where staff bring items to them. Pickup service allows customers to buy items online and snag them from a table just inside the door.
The new surge in cases is frustrating, Major said, because he feels like “the people doing the most complaining about the restrictions are also the ones prolonging this.”
“I hope these vaccines they're talking about are all they're cracked up to be,” Major said. “I'm beyond ready for this to end.”
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