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98 Days Later: Multnomah Slowly Reopens

Since my last update, a lot has changed. Not only in the pursuit of social justice and equality, but also in how the country tries to figure out reopening for business. And owners are looking for safe and responsible ways to do so, in the midst of a pandemic, not to mention all the economic pressures that surround it.

I’ve spoken with owners of restaurants, breweries, and taprooms and It should be no surprise that everyone is approaching the concept of reopening differently. Do I have enough space to reopen? Can I provide additional seating outdoors to allow for social distancing and less chance of transmission of the virus? How do we ensure a sanitary environment? How do we keep our employees safe? Should we wait to reopen? If our employees are receiving unemployment, will they make less if we reopen now?

These are all difficult quandaries to address and resolve. And I honestly wasn’t sure if I really wanted to visit locations this past weekend, not because I didn’t trust the businesses to do the right thing, but more how many people are going to show up? Will there be long wait times? Will I feel safe by having enough space? Are people ready to wear masks and/or can handle distancing in public?

So I didn’t go out Friday, the date chosen by Governor Kate Brown for Multnomah County (predominantly Portland, Oregon) to reopen businesses. I visited one location Saturday evening that I felt comfortable in knowing I’d have enough space to enjoy the visit, without fearing crowds. I then visited two more on Fathers Day when I presumed it wouldn’t be too crazy.

Here’s what I experienced at each of three locations, all on the Eastern side of Portland.

Level Beer

Upon arriving at Level’s location, just north of Airport Road in the outer reaches of Northeast Portland, I encountered two older white guys without masks on leaving the building. Tried not to roll my eyes too hard, because quite honestly, the state isn’t mandating masks to be worn indoors until Wednesday, but this was the only negative during an otherwise flawlessly set up operation.

For those who’ve been to Level, you already know how much space they’re working with – a large greenhouse patio, plus an abundance of space on their back patio/lawn area. It’s the taproom itself that’s a bit smaller, though they removed tables, the arcade games, set up a line, relocated their merch store, and provided three serving stations with screens. They’ve also provided signage everywhere – ordering guides, menus while in line, signs requiring masks to be worn indoors, on the walkway to the back patio, as well as blocked off sections of large tables for distancing.

I ordered a glass of the new 3-Way IPA, then headed to the back patio and happened to run into a few industry friends. Having the back picnic tables more than 6 feet apart allowed for seated conversation, at distance. Everything seemed as close to normal here as you could want, other than having to wear a mask indoors when not drinking, which will be required county-wide starting tomorrow. It was less busy than I’d expected, never had to wait for service, and felt 100% comfortable the entire visit.

Von Ebert Brewing – Glendoveer

Venturing out again on Sunday, on what was picture perfect weather for a Father’s Day, I was again seeking out two more places with patio space, on the east side. Von Ebert Brewing, located on the Glendoveer Golf Course, was one I definitely looked forward to visting again. I love both the beer and food they provide, but was also curious to see the dynamic of golfers, fresh from the course, added to the mix.

Upon arrival, there was abundant signage out front regarding where to stand for pick-up orders, where to enter/exit, plus a QR code in the front lobby to upload online menus. They currently have very limited seating indoors (roughly 10 tables), plus three patio spaces with roughly 17-20 tables. There wasn’t a line when I arrived, nor when I left. There were a few empty tables indoors and out, so it wasn’t overly busy.

This was also my first dining experience in over three months, so I kept it simple with a Pizza and some low ABV Lagers.

And once again I was impressed by the attention to detail here, including signage noting if a table’s been sanitized yet, an abundance of space, single-use items in place of shakers. Everything felt right and was what I’d come to expect of Von Ebert’s staff and the quality food and drink they serve.

Threshold Brewing & Blending

The smallest and newest of the breweries I visited over the weekend, Threshold certainly didn’t appear daunted by either.

They’re one of a number of locations that has added more patio space by receiving a permit to allow tables in an area that’s normally street parking. This has enabled them almost the same amount of seating as they’d normally have, with 7 tables outside (including 2 together for a larger group) and 5 tables/counters inside.

Sanitization at each table is clearly identified by labeled 16oz cans filled with sand, clear floor markings identify spacing and direction of traffic flow through the small space, and everything hummed along smoothly while I was there.

I arrived 5 minutes prior to opening and there were already 2-3 groups of people waiting to enter. While it was relatively quiet the first 15 minutes or so, business picked up quickly and they were pretty much at full occupancy within an hour. It was the only place I waited in line for service, though it was never a long wait, everyone was masked, and I again felt safe to be either on the patio or inside.

Conclusions & Things to Look For

Overall, I was really impressed by not only all the hard work each location had clearly put into making sure their business was operating the right way, but also by how customers handled the situation, with masks being worn by most everyone while indoors or away from their table. I also, not once, encountered an employee without his or her mask on.

If there’s anything I’d be on the look out for, it’s how locations are sanitizing tables. Are they using clean towels and a sanitizing spray or the traditional “wet towel from a bucket” wipe down? Be sure to keep an eye out for hand sanitizer as well and use it when you see it.

While it was only 3 locations I visited, on opening weekend, I was still surprised by the lack of crowds. Will many continue to receive delivery and use to-go options until this is all over? Most definitely. Are a lot of locations still taking a wait-and-see approach to all of this? Also yes. I’ve spoken to two or three owners who plan to wait until after 4th of July to resume on-site service. I’ve also spoken to a few who don’t know when they’ll reopen because it just isn’t advantageous to do so, are concerned for employee safety, and/or can afford to wait as their economic situation isn’t dire.

In the end, no one should be in any rush to visit locations again. It’s definitely a different experience than I’m used to when going out, especially as a single person who’s effectively forced to stay at distance. Do what feels comfortable to you, keep supporting delivery/take-out options, and do what you can to help keep these small businesses going. I fear this isn’t going to be over anytime soon, but if you’re comfortable visiting them in person again, you should definitely feel safe to do so.

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