Area restaurants, bars open doors for diners this week

SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN — Michiganders looking for a plated meal and hospitality will finally have the opportunity to dine in-house again.

Restaurant and bar staff across Berrien and Cass counties eager to see diners again were granted the go-ahead to by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to re-open on Monday. With mandatory COVID-19 precautions in place, including 50 percent capacity and spaced out guests, establishments are adapting dining areas to the new normal.

At 236 S. Front St. in Dowagiac, The Wounded Minnow Saloon’s Lisa Stelmasiak was happy to be back to business today.

“The staff is getting used to the masks,” Stelmasiak said.

Another change she noted during service was that the servers were distributing takeout condiments to limit cross contaminated community surfaces. Ketchup, mayo, salt and pepper were delivered in pre-packaged packets as opposed to having customers use the bottles and containers on the table.

Harvest Café, 2726 South 11th St. in Niles, opened for breakfast and lunch on Monday morning at 8 a.m. Out front was a large sign sat near the road so passersby would know that it was their day too.

“My team is very much like family,” said owner Pam Sebasty. “It was so nice to be back together as a team and working together.”

Sebasty admitted that she was nervous to reopen on Monday, unsure of what exactly to expect. As the café’s day wound to a close at 2 p.m., Sebasty said that the business stayed steady throughout service.

“It was a wonderful day, I can’t say enough good,” she said.

The Nuggett, located in downtown Niles 202 E. Main Street, opened its doors back up to dine-in guests on Monday as well.

“We’ve been taking it in stride,” said manager Wynter Dulemba. “We’ve had to eliminate some tables. We can’t necessarily seat every table depending on where people are sitting at the moment.”

Dulemba said that despite being workers being kept on their toes to keep in mind guidelines and restrictions, it is nice to have the dining room back open.

“We are definitely happy to be open,” Dulemba said. “It’s just getting everyone used to the guidelines. It’s all new to everyone.”

Niles’ Pizza Transit also opened its dining room back up on Monday. With 50 percent of the tables in place in the dining area, and some new staff members, the once seat-yourself establishment is now seating guests as they arrive. According to Pizza Transit’s Facebook page, staff will continue to do curbside delivery, as well as dine in, carryout and delivery.

Businesses that are not normally open at the beginning of the week were waiting to get back into normal schedules.

Iron Shoe Distillery, at 3 N. Third St. in Niles, plans to reopen on Wednesday this week.

Tackling the 50 percent capacity mandate, owner Howard Tuthill expanded the distillery’s outdoor seating.

“I made a patio area outside,” Tuthill said. “So, actually to be at 50 percent capacity, I am taking out six tables, but then I am gaining six tables there. We aren’t going to lose any seats.”

Outdoor seating is something Tuthill said seems to be preferable right now.

“The biggest things, from what I’ve been hearing in Indiana, the restaurants that have patios are where people are going to more,” he said. “People are more comfortable going outside, it sounds like.”

The distillery also features multiple garage doors in the dining room, so when the weather is nice, Tuthill plans to open them to give an open-air feel to the restaurant.

The new normal has restaurant owners back into their old schedules. While nearly three months have passed, getting back into old routines with new regulations is what many owners have been hoping for.

Off to a steady start, Sebasty, of Harvest Cafe, is just excited to be back in the café.

“We’re getting in the groove again,” she said.