Phoenix Area Restaurants Taking Advantage Of Outdoor Seating For Customers
Record high temperatures prevented restaurants across the Valley from opening outdoor seating in an attempt to recoup lost profits in response to the pandemic. However, a drop in temperatures has businesses taking advantage of temporary dining permits and good weather and opening outdoor seating for their customers.
New Mexican Restaurant and Pub Lovecraft opened in north Phoenix as a simple one story restaurant. Owner Rebecca Golden is known for turning small spaces into hip eateries. She saw potential in her space and is currently adding a patio on top of her restaurant.
“Initially, it was just that we needed outdoor space,” said Golden. “Our summer is pretty rough here so when the weather's nice, people certainly want to be outside.”
Golden applied for a permanent outdoor permit in October last year — four months before the first COVID-19 case was discovered in Arizona. She said the permit takes months to process and comes with a string of fees. “You have to get your site plan approved, and all your building plans approved. If you have any changes, you got to start submitting changes, and it's a lot of work," Golden said.
In March, in the middle of Golden’s process to create an outdoor patio, Gov. Doug Ducey announced a statewide closure as the threat of a global pandemic loomed.
Ducey said, “this is about public health and protecting lives … especially of our elderly and most vulnerable.”
Concerned for the future, Lovecraft decided to put a halt on their construction project.
“We knew we weren't going to start building until we knew if we were going to come out of these COVID restrictions,” explained Golden. “What's the point of building a patio if you can't even open up?”
Within the first six months, Arizona restaurants and bars endured two rounds of statewide shutdowns, with losses estimated by the Arizona Restaurant Association at $2 billion.
The first round of restrictions had Huss Brewing Company in Central Phoenix offering curbside pickup for items on their menu and off. On top of burgers and fries, the unique service included items higher in demand: groceries.
“We were selling not just toilet paper, but spaghetti and spaghetti sauce, and burgers and buns,” said Chip Mulala with Huss Brewing. “People would literally go online and fill out their grocery list to come and pick it up.”
The service helped to draw customers and eventually, a bigger crowd. But the crowd caused a new issue for the brewery which was operating at 50% occupancy inside.
“On Fridays and Saturdays, we've had to turn away a lot of business. And during a down economy and COVID pandemic situation we're all going through, the hardest thing to do is turn away business,” Mulala admitted.
"On Fridays and Saturdays, we've had to turn away a lot of business. And during a down economy and COVID pandemic situation we're all going through, the hardest thing to do is turn away business."
— Chip Mulala with Huss Brewing
The limited occupancy came after research by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported indoor dining to be at high risk for spreading Coronavirus.
The city of Phoenix responded and loosened their patio permits under an emergency Temporary Outdoor Dining Program. The program allowed businesses to utilize sidewalk space as well as parking spaces for their outdoor seating.
As the threat of another round of restrictions approached, outdoor dining permits caught the eye of Huss Brewing Company. After less than two weeks of processing, Huss Brewing opened outdoor seating at a nearby courtyard.
Phoenix removed legal hurdles and all fees to benefit the businesses and reduce the permit process to 15 days.
“We're trying to help the businesses we're trying to help the community, the employees of the business also to stay employed,” said Sam McAllen, the city’s Economic Development program manager.
Huss Brewing Company suffers months of losses and are grateful the permits came around when they did.
“To go outside has been a godsend and a real lifeline to help us out,” said Mulala.
Seventeen businesses are applying for temporary permits all across Phoenix and safely serving customers at close to full capacity.
Lovecraft’s owner admitted she is frustrated missing the chance to have processing fees waved.
“They're certainly not going to pay me back for all the fees I paid. I can't look backward. I just have to keep looking forward,” she said.
Outdoor patios with temporary permits will be asked to close when restrictions lift but Golden’s rooftop patio will remain open for business once construction finishes.
Golden said diners will have something to look forward to once her restaurant patio opens.
“Our area is surrounded by the Phoenix Mountain Preserves and because all of the buildings in the surrounding area are one story, we will have the opportunity with a second story to look over those buildings and see the beauty surrounding us,” she promised.