Baker: Outdoor dining extended for restaurants

Governor also criticizes the federal response to the pandemic.

Outdoor patio dining at Sharky’s Cantina in Edgartown. - Brian Dowd

Using a Medford restaurant as his backdrop on Thursday, Gov. Charlie Baker said he planned to sign an executive order later in the day that would permit local municipalities to allow restaurants to continue offering expanded outdoor dining. “We hope this eases the burden on restaurants,” Baker said.

He also urged the commonwealth’s residents to go out and try one of their favorite restaurants, with either indoor or outdoor dining. “Give it a try … people have done a lot of work … to enhance safety,” Baker said during the press briefing.

Outdoor dining has helped keep some restaurants afloat, with capacity reduced for indoor dining. J.B. Blau, who owns several restaurants on-Island, said he was watching the governor’s remarks for the first time in several months, and found himself getting emotional. “Outdoor definitely softened the blow at the places that had some available,” he said. “Obviously they were still down and it was difficult, but it absolutely helped, and I’m glad to see he extended it.”

Blau was able to incorporate “vented and tented” seating at his Sharky’s Cantina location in Edgartown. However, his Sharky’s location in Oak Bluffs and Copper Wok in Vineyard Haven have been hampered by the lack of outdoor seating. Blau never opened M.V. Chowder Co., because the restaurant has a large bar that would have remained closed under the governor’s orders. He said he intends to open up conversations with the town early about the possibility of expanded outdoor dining for his locations in the spring and next summer.

“We’re planning for next summer with the understanding that there will be social distancing again. We’ll be addressing that with the towns soon,” he said. “Any place that had outdoor seating had a fighting chance.”

Blau wondered how long customers would be willing to sit outside. He’s flirting with the idea of purchasing tents that would protect customers from the wind, but isolate them from other groups of diners.

Doug Abdelnour knows the benefits of outdoor dining. Two of his family’s restaurants thrive on it — Nancy’s and Noman’s, both in Oak Bluffs.
“Between Nancy’s and Noman’s, we’re so lucky from the beginning to have that amount of outdoor seating,” he said. “Noman’s we did have to get rid of our lawn games, and no bands or entertainment, so we were able to spread our seating around. That made a big difference. It was subconsciously made for social distancing.”

Abdelnour said he’s hopeful that other restaurants on the Island can expand their outdoor offerings. “It was a good year for Noman’s because of the amount of space. It worked out pretty good. I feel bad for everyone else. Even at Nancy’s we have indoor seating, and it was pretty apparent that even with the spacing, people would prefer to sit outside. People were actually nervous to sit inside.”

 

In Edgartown, the Board of Trade worked with town leaders to provide additional space for restaurants on sidewalks, in parking lots, and even on the lawn of the county courthouse.

“I think [town administrator] James Hagerty did a fantastic job in taking initiative in working with the Board of Trade and individual restaurants to create additional space,” Julia Tarka, vice president of the board and owner of Rosewater, told The Times. She said the mask order downtown, signage, and creating loading areas for businesses also helped everyone feel comfortable. 

Tarka also praised Baker. “The governor and the state [have] done a great job trying to support businesses, especially restaurants,” she said. The extension of outdoor seating is beneficial in helping those businesses, she added.

Baker also said Thursday that the state’s seven-day positive average for coronavirus tests has dipped to 0.8 percent, down from 0.9 percent the day before.

Martha’s Vineyard Hospital reported no new cases of COVID-19. The total number of cases at the hospital remains at 45 since testing began back in March. Meanwhile, the TestMV site reported two new cases earlier this week, bringing its total number of cases to 24.

Despite the positive numbers statewide, Baker urged people to remain vigilant by keeping social distance, and wearing a face covering or mask when that’s not possible.

Baker was asked by reporters about the revelations that President Donald Trump misled the public about the seriousness of COVID-19. He didn’t hold back. “I have not been shy about my dismay with the federal response to this pandemic, and we’ve also tried to be pretty consistent around our messaging on this. It’s dangerous, for many people it’s deadly dangerous, and it’s profoundly contagious,” he said. “And it’s the contagion that makes it dangerous for everybody. Especially because such a big piece of the population that becomes infected and is, in fact, contagious will either be contagious before they show symptoms, or contagious without ever showing symptoms.”

Then he took aim at the White House. “I think the federal response on this, especially for state leaders and healthcare providers and others who are playing this game on the ground, has made it much harder for all of us.”

Baker was then asked if Trump should resign: “There’s an election coming up; that’s when people make decisions about stuff like this.”