By Morgan Pilz, Staff Writer
(June 11, 2020) With Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to allow restaurants to have limited outdoor seating last week, several Berlin operators have taken advantage of the situation to ensure their businesses continue to flourish.
Economic and Community Development Director Ivy Wells worked with multiple residents around the town to accommodate the new limitations in various ways.
“People are excited to be outside and just being around other people and being able to support our restaurants and not having to grab your food and take it home,” Wells said. “We have a variety of areas public that the public can come out and eat.
For instance, she allowed Baked Dessert Café to use chairs and tables that are typically used for events as a seating area for customers directly next to the store behind The Dusty Lamb on Bay Street.
“Mike Queen (who owns Rayne’s Reef) had even before the whole virus crisis, when he initially bought that building, he had spoken with Ivy about potentially turning that into an outdoor seating area,” Baked Dessert Café Owner Robin Tomaselli said.
“Then, of course, the virus happened and taxes had went up and then when there was the talk about the first relaxing of the rules as far as outdoor dining came into play, we started thinking about it and again Ivy reached out to us and asked, if we wanted to do that, she would allow us to temporarily use the cafe tables and seating that they use at the visitors center.”
The outside seating can comfortably hold around 25-30 tables, though with current regulations there are anywhere from 10-20 tables available. Tomaselli is thrilled with the idea, especially since Berlin is usually limited for outdoor seating.
“There’s not many people outside of Fins in Berlin that are really designed for outdoor seating but people are adjusting,” she said. “Justine Zegna from Blacksmith is making modifications to her building to increase outdoor space and the reality for a lot of people, is a lot of people are just more comfortable being outside, whether its eating outside or shopping outside. that is the comfort level right now.”
Tomaselli hopes to work with Queen to be able to make the outdoor seating more permanent once the restrictions are lifted.
“Maybe if more money is made available, we can partner with Mike and the town and create a much more usable space,” she said. “I’m super grateful to Mike Queen of Rayne’s Reef and for Ivy Wells for reaching out to us to let us know that she was willing to let us borrow those tables and chairs.”
Baked Dessert Café is currently open Thursdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Wells was happy to provide the seating arrangement.
“A couple of years ago, we received a grant from AARP to pay for those tables to use at our events,” she said. “And now that the events have been canceled, the tables and chairs are just sitting there.
“Basically, what we’ve created – and this is a term that we use for downtown communities – we’ve created pocket parks throughout the town for public seating,” Wells continued.
The Atlantic Hotel on Main Street is also taking advantage of the outdoor seating by using its large front garden space for dining.
“It’s been great just to be open,” General Manager Laura Stearns said. “We’ve had an orange crush bar and that has been particularly busy. It makes me feel like a little like New Orleans or Nashville.”
The hotel has been able to seat around 22 tables safely while following the guidelines set by the governor, though Stearns admits she is looking forward to reopening the indoor facility.
“[Outdoor dining] has been great because the weather has been great,” she said. “But our fingers are crossed, because we’re waiting for indoor dining because there’s the fear of a storm coming up and these people having nowhere to go, which makes it a more dangerous situation because we have no place to put a crowd.”
Despite this, Stearns said people have been “very excited” that the Atlantic Hotel is open for business.
Also reopen for business is Fins Ale House and Raw Bar on 119 North Main Street. Fins, which has a large outside dining space, was able to immediately take full advantage of the outside seating requirements.
“We are absolutely grateful to be able to have the outdoor seating,” bartender Molly McEvoy said. “Prior to covid, we would have more, but it’s hard not to be grateful when you see more businesses that are suffering that don’t have that opportunity.”
Fins can currently seat 40 people comfortably, but knows that indoor dining would be a huge help as well.
“Outside of the six feet issue, for example, tables are only allowed to sit for 80-minute intervals,” McEvoy said. “You hate to shorten an experience, but given the state of the times, we have to do what we have to do, but we’ve been lucky because everyone has been very receptive to us.”
McEvoy encourages residents and tourists alike to come help the local businesses and small shop owners flourish again after two or three months of inactivity.
“The big corporations are going to make it and the little guy really tries hard every day and we take the time to know your neighbors,” she said. “I will ask you about the lawnmower that you wanted to purchase months ago or how your kids are doing in school. It’s a lot more personal around here and we love being here. There’s no reason why you wouldn’t want to help the little guy.”
Fins is open Tuesdays through Sundays with hours of operations from Tuesday through Friday and Sunday from 12-8 p.m. and 12-9 p.m. on Saturdays.
Also offering outdoor seating is DiFebo’s on 104 North Main Street. In addition to carryout, the Italian restaurant has four two-top tables out front and several larger tables for reservations in the back behind the restaurant in the parking lot.
“Right now, we have four two-tops in the front and we have some seating in the back for larger reservations, we have one four-top, one seven-top and two two-tops,” server Jaden Johnstone said. “People want to return to that normalcy that was here before the quarantine happened. And outdoor seating, while not exactly the same, is still similar.”
Johnstone added that people were happy with outdoor dining, but also acknowledged that some people do prefer indoor seating.
“I think it works, but having indoor seating would help a little bit,” he said. “Some people really do just want indoor seating. They don’t want to be out in the heat even if we do have shade.”
DiFebo’s is open Mondays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays the restaurant opens at 10 a.m. for the Berlin farmers market and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. for lunch and dinner.
Wells discussed the success of the town’s outside seating accomplishments during the mayor and Town Council meeting on Monday. During that time, Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood praised Wells for her diligence.
“I want to recognize Ivy wholeheartedly for the last three and a half months during this pandemic for the amount of effort and time she’s placed into guiding and directing the merchants of this town, it’s incredible,” he said. “She’s been diligent, clear, concise and factual.”