Coronavirus: Partitions, paper menus and more as Bay Area restaurant prepares for post-COVID-19 business

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Friday, May 1, 2020
Bay Area restaurant prepares for post-COVID-19 business
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When restaurants reopen in California, they are certain to look much different than they did pre-pandemic. Here's what Sapore Italiano Ristorante in Burlingame is doing to make sure they're ready.

BURLINGAME, Calif. (KGO) -- As California enters its seventh week under stay-at-home orders, shopping malls, sports arenas and restaurant dining rooms remain shuttered.

In Burlingame, preparation for post-COVID-19 business is already underway.

RELATED: Gov. Gavin Newsom says California may be 'days, not weeks' from further reopening

Pre-pandemic, an empty entryway would've been unusual for a Friday evening at Sapore Italiano Ristorante.

During the pandemic, co-owner Elio Durzo has started preparing his dining room for the day customers return. No doubt, business will be much different.

"We cannot be very Italian anymore," Durzo said. "We cannot hug each other."

The usual embraces will soon be replaced by eight feet of separation. New glass partitions between each dining table have been secured to ensure safety.

As it stands, specific reopening guidelines haven't been announced by Governor Gavin Newsom. However, there is indication an update is expected soon.

"I can only say this, we're getting very, very close to making some announcements that I think will be very meaningful to people in retail sector, hospitality sector," Governor Gavin Newsom announced during his Friday press conference. "Yes, that includes, in that second phase, restaurants."

RELATED: Gov. Newsom announces 4 phases to reopen CA businesses and schools

Sapore Italiano has remained open for delivery and take-out since shelter-in-place orders took shape.

Beyond the glass barriers, Durzo is switching to paper menus, paper napkins, and other material meant for one-time-use.

Customers will see staff in masks and gloves, and notice staggered reservations.

"I'm going to seat the customer like 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Then 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., 9:30 p.m.," Durzo explained.

He's also introducing no-contact payment.

"They can already order, pre-order, and pay online," Durzo explained. "They can just come here and eat!"

Since the pandemic hit, Durzo has had to layoff 18 employees. His staff is now down to six people.

Durzo said his application for the Paycheck Protection Program sits unanswered, but he's hopeful.

RELATED: Shelter-in-place has start-up restaurants looking for help in SF's La Cocina

In the same news conference on Friday, Governor Newsom pointed to protection of a different kind. He repeated personal protective equipment (PPE) is fundamental when considering reopening guidelines.

He said, when we have new guidelines, those that either come up organically on a local level or are mandated from the state level, "Those guidelines always include protective gear that are essential for businesses to reopen, and provide customers the option on face coverings as well as providing workers that protection they deserve. PPE is foundational."

For Sapore Italiano, there will be a new look for the longtime Burlingame business. Durzo explained it's a temporary solution until we get over this tough time.

"For sure, it's going to be for a long time," he said about keeping the changes in his dining room. "I think at least until next summer, for sure."

Durzo said he invested roughly $2,000 for the glass partitions. He purchased the material on his own, and had help installing the barriers.

He said doing so brought him back to the very beginning of Sapore Italiano, "I remember in 2000, when me and three other Italian guys- we were here doing the floor, doing the painting- waiting to open. It's like now, I do the same thing."

He added, "What we need to try to do is go back to work in a safe way."

Another new perk for Sapore Italiano customers is freshly made pasta. Durzo invested $20,000 in a pasta maker. The new deal will give patrons the option to take home fresh pasta and a pasta sauce, to cook on their own.

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