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story.lead_photo.caption Carol Seago (left) and her friend Kim Magee dine in at Taziki's at 8200 Cantrell Road in Little Rock, where the dining room reopened Monday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Stephen Swofford)

Some restaurants began gingerly (that's cautiously or carefully, and even at Asian restaurants has nothing to do with the aromatic root) reopening their dining rooms this week.

Even the most ardent supporters of getting things going again have acknowledged that few places can even cover their overhead under the somewhat stringent Phase 1 regulations from the state Health Department on dining-room service: seating is limited to 33% of total capacity, including indoor and outdoor dining areas; restaurants must maintain a 10-foot physical distance between tables; patrons must make reservations when practical; all staff who come in contact with patrons must wear masks (they're encouraged, but not mandatory, for staff in the back); gloves for all staff, to be "changed out between each customer, customer group or task"; face coverings for all patrons (Gov. Asa Hutchinson has suggested that it'll be OK for customers to remove their masks once they've placed their orders); a 10-person limit per party; and health screenings for all staff.

Eventually, assuming Phase 1 does not result in big spikes in covid-19 cases, restaurants would enter a less-restrictive Phase 2, increasing total available seating to 66% and opening bars and entertainment operations while maintaining a 6-foot physical distance among patrons. Someday, Phase 3 would represent normal operations with full seating capacity.

[RELATED: Read our full list of which restaurants have decided to open for dine-in and which have not:]

We'll focus here, perhaps reprising a bit Tuesday's front-page story, on owners of multiple local restaurants, including Don Dugan, who owns Dugan's Pub, 401 E. Third St.; South on Main, 1304 S. Main St., and Dizzy's Bistro, 200 River Market Ave., in Little Rock. Dugan told a reporter he felt comfortable inviting dine-in customers to his pub Monday and liked the idea that he could take steps toward full capacity, though with a limited menu and a reduced waitstaff. "It seems like the right thing to do," Dugan said Monday. "We're ready to get back to some sense of normalcy." Dugan opened the dining room at Dizzy's, which is closed on Mondays, on Tuesday. South on Main, however, is still restricted to takeout only.

Chris Tanner said he is opening his Cheers in the Heights, 2010 N. Van Buren St., Little Rock, but only for outdoor-only dining at six patio tables, some dependent on weather, and parties of 10 or fewer can take advantage of his indoor private dining room. For the time being, he's "holding tight" on reopening the dining room at Samantha's Tap Room & Wood Grill, 322 Main St., Little Rock, which has been temporarily closed for about two months; he's in touch with area hotels, since "that represents a large portion of our business" downtown, he said, and looking at a potential June 1 reopen date. He has also given June 1 as the target date for the reopening of The Oyster Bar, 3003 W. Markham St., Little Rock, which he and his wife, Samantha, bought from the retiring Virginia Boyd in September. The restaurant has been undergoing an extensive physical and menu renovation.

On the same 300 block of Main Street as Samantha's, Soul Fish Cafe, 306 Main, which had been closed for several weeks, and Brewski's Pub & Grub, 315 Main, reopened Monday for dine-in, takeout, curbside pickup and third-party delivery. A spokesman for Allsopp & Chapple, 311 Main St. in Little Rock, which has been closed, said it will not reopen for Phase 1, and "we will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation." A check of the Facebook page and phone number for A.W. Lin's, 309 Main St. in Little Rock, indicates it, too, will remain closed until further notice. Co-owner Gio Bruno has said he has no current plans to alter the successful takeout and delivery operation at Bruno's Little Italy, 310 Main.

Waitress Anna Barnard (left) serves diners Ella Rena (seated left), her mother Louise Hope (center) and April Smith Monday on the patio at Dugan's Pub in downtown Little Rock.

(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)
Waitress Anna Barnard (left) serves diners Ella Rena (seated left), her mother Louise Hope (center) and April Smith Monday on the patio at Dugan's Pub in downtown Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal)

Scott McGehee, executive chef and partner in Yellow Rocket Concepts, last week was still uncertain which way the company's eight restaurants — Heights Taco & Tamale Co., Lost Forty and ZaZa Fine Salad + Wood-Oven Pizza Co. in Little Rock, two Big Orange restaurants in Little Rock and one in Rogers and Local Lime in Little Rock and Rogers — would go. After our deadline for last week's column, Yellow Rocket came down on the side of caution, posting essentially the same message on all of those restaurants' Facebook pages: "[Our] opening date ... will be dependent on having all necessary training, equipment, spatial considerations in place and mandated guidelines satisfied so that we may provide our staff and guests with the best possible working and dining experience," the post said. Until then, "We will continue curbside, take-away, call-ahead, and online ordering services."

Meanwhile, "Our team has made the decision to keep our dining areas closed at this time," said Jacob Chi of Chi Restaurant Group LLC, which includes Little Rock restaurants Chi's Asian Cafe, 3421 Old Cantrell Road; Chi's Chinese Cuisine, 17200 Chenal Parkway; Sushi Cafe & Grill, 5823 Kavanaugh Blvd.; Sushi Cafe West, 11211 Cantrell Road; Lulu's Seafood Kitchen, 5911 R St.; and Prospect Sports Bar & Grill, 5501 Kavanaugh Blvd..

We reported last week the simple statement, via Facebook, from Tomas Bohm, chef-owner at The Pantry, 11401 N. Rodney Parham Road, and The Pantry Crest, 722 N. Palm St., in Hillcrest, that "The Pantry Restaurants will not open for dine-in in Phase 1 — curbside and to-go only." (The Pantry Crest has been temporarily closed for several weeks.) Last week, an email to "our amazing and loyal guests" elaborated: "We at The Pantry Restaurants just wanted to reach out to you all and let you know our plan for the upcoming weeks. The restrictions for dine-in service will be lifted next week, however, we will not be opening our dining room at this time. ... We will continue to offer family packs, takeout for lunch and dinner, beer/wine to-go, as well as our Curbside Market items and provisions."

And pursuant to a promise from JTJ Restaurants' Jim Keet, all six Taziki's restaurants — four in Central Arkansas plus two in Northwest Arkansas — opened to dine-in customers on Monday. Petit & Keet, 1620 Market St., Little Rock, the collaboration between Keet and legendary restaurateur Louis Petit, is expected to open for dine-in on May 18, its third anniversary.

Has a restaurant opened — or closed — near you in the last week or so? Does your favorite eatery have a new menu? Is there a new chef in charge? Drop us a line. Send email to:

Weekend on 05/14/2020


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