'Desperate situation': Pleasanton restaurants offer outdoor dining despite extended stay-at-home order

"We are a month or two from going out of business."

ByMatt Boone KGO logo
Sunday, January 10, 2021
East Bay restaurants offer outdoor dining despite COVID-19 order
Several restaurants in Pleasanton opened their patios for outdoor dining Friday and Saturday night, the same day the Bay Area region dipped to 3% ICU capacity and despite the extended stay-at-home order.

PLEASANTON, Calif. (KGO) -- Several restaurants in Pleasanton opened their patios for outdoor dining Friday night, the same day the Bay Area region dipped to 3% ICU capacity.

"I didn't know what to expect," said Todd Utikal, owner of Sidetrack Bar and Grill in Downtown Pleasanton, who announced the opening Friday morning on Facebook.

By 6 p.m., his restaurant had a 45-minute wait as customers eagerly lined up to do something that has been prohibited in Alameda County since Dec. 7.

That's when the county voluntarily entered into the state's regional stay-at-home order, which does not allow outdoor dining. The Bay Area region as a whole didn't officially enter the order until Dec. 17.

The three-week order was set to expire on January 8, barring an extension. While the California Department of Public Health announced Friday that the "Bay Area remains under the Regional Stay at Home Order," it did not release any specifics about an extension.

To Utikal, this created somewhat of a gray area.

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"We just felt the Governor had not extended the shelter-in-place order, so we stocked up our food, hired back some staff and we felt let's open up outdoors," he said.

Alameda County did not respond to our request for comment, but they did issue a statement saying "For the order to be lifted, the State's projections must show that our region is expected to meet or exceed 15% ICU capacity in the next four weeks. We cannot communicate next steps until the State formally announces our region's status."

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"The current 3.5% ICU bed capacity is a strong indication that the state will extend the order past the three-week minimum time period," read the statement from Alameda County, citing Thursday's ICU number.

That changed on Saturday, when the state officially announced that the Bay Area remains under the stay-at-home-order due to low ICU capacity, increasing hospitalizations and rising cases.

An extension of the the orders could cause further hardship for already struggling bars and restaurants.

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"There are a lot of us in the restaurant business that are in a desperate situation. We are a month or two from going out of business," said Barbara McKay.

She owns McKay's Taproom and Beer Garden in Downtown Pleasanton with her husband, Josh.

They also were looking forward to the end of the stay-at-home order on Jan. 8, citing confusion on whether it has been extended or not.

"So we have decided to open in the safe and clean environment that we have always had," said McKay.

She argues, outdoor dining has not been proven to be a major driver of coronavirus transmission and that restaurants have been unfairly targeted by the ongoing restrictions.

"We would never make this decision if we didn't feel it was not a health risk to our community and was not the morally right thing to do," said McKay.

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Despite the announcement of the extension, both Sidetrack and McKay's were open again on Saturday.

"Our customer base was very excited and thankful," said Josh McKay about their customer reaction on Friday night.

He said they sold so much beer he had to run out and grab a new keg.

"Last night was a very good night. Today has been good," said McKay.

Several other restaurants appeared to follow suit, but the vast majority remained compliant, including Wild One Grill.

"It's going bad. But we can't complain. We have a lot of customers supporting us," said Laura Olmedo, Manager of Wild One.

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While they are fast-casual, they did offer indoor and outdoor seating before all the prohibitions. As she watches neighboring restaurants defy the order, she said they have no plans to do so.

"We're thinking of the safety of our people, our customers," she said.

Though, when asked if she thought it was fair for other businesses to have in-person dining right now, she said that wasn't her call to make.

"It's up to them. I can't judge. I don't know their problems," said Olmedo.

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