After a seven-month pandemic-prompted shutdown, indoor dining returned to Santa Clara County on Wednesday — a gloriously sunny day, the sort made for alfresco meals.
But temperatures in the 70s and 80s didn’t keep lunchtime customers from venturing back inside, where they hadn’t been since March.
At 11:45 a.m., diners headed first to the outdoor hostess booth at Pedro’s Restaurant & Cantina in Santa Clara to have their temperature taken and squirt some sanitizer on their hands, before claiming an indoor table in this airy restaurant with three-story-high ceilings and a normal capacity of 320.
Under the new rules announced by county health officials, that restaurant may now may seat 25 percent — up to 80 diners — indoors, so long as all safety protocols are followed. When the county moved this week into California’s “orange” coronavirus tier, officials also eased restrictions on churches, fitness centers, bowling alleys, card rooms and movie theaters while cautioning that indoor activities remain “high risk.”
“It’s time for the economy to start building back up,” said Ricky Rivera, a Fremont entrepreneur with two colleagues who were making their way through their basket of chips and salsa (“the best,” they said in unison) at Pedro’s.
While he knows people who have battled COVID-19, Rivera said he felt safe because he’s experienced the resumption of indoor dining in Portland, Oregon. “At some point we have to stop being scared and open things up.”
At a table about 20 feet away, a trio of Silicon Valley startup employees talked business with a colleague from Texas, where most of the state has reopened. “It feels wonderful,” one said. “I feel safe.”
Pedro’s owner Jag Kapoor was pleased with the first-day response, noting that it will take some time to return to the pre-pandemic days when the nearby Silicon Valley workforce resulted in a waiting list by noon most weekdays.
“We’ll have to see what the customer reaction is and how confident they feel. I think we have to build the comfort level,” he said, adding that a new indoor filtration system is being installed this week.
Across the freeway at Santa Clara Square, the Opa! staff was primed and ready for socially distanced indoor diners, but the lunchtime crowd packed the patio.
“People are indoors all the time,” especially the local work-from-home employees who frequent this Opa! restaurant, manager Brenda Garcia said. “They want to be dining out.”
“It might change. It’s just the first day.”
At San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose, Mike Messinger took the opportunity to launch indoor service right away at his two restaurants, Farmers Union and Olla Cocina, even though outdoor dining has gone well.
Messinger said the 140 seats on two Farmers Union patios and the street have been booked solid on weekends. However, he now can accommodate 60 more inside there and additional diners at his Mexican restaurant next door.
“We love the alfresco and we hope the city keeps it year-round, but we had been concerned about the weather changing,” he said.
Back at Pedro’s, friends Sharon Wangsness of San Jose and Barbara Rudolph of Milpitas, who have known each other for years through a Harley-Davidson motorcycle club, met up for a Beef Chimichanga and Mojo Shrimp lunch.
Wangsness said she loves the interior decor at Pedro’s and wouldn’t hesitate to eat inside, but: “The weather! It’s beautiful.” So they opted for the patio.
“That’s what Harley riders do. We’re outside a lot.”