Last week, Lakewood City Council passed an ordinance that eases the way for restaurants to add or expand outdoor dining into parking lots, public rights of way and some on-street parking.
Eric Williams, chef and owner of El Carnicero in Lakewood and Momocho in Ohio City, has been following the developments closely. Since the start of all this, he says, his approach has been cautious, measured and prudent. He considers the expansion of outdoor dining as the next logical step in his reopening plan.
“After taking two months off at both Momocho and El C, we added carry-out only at both restaurants,” Williams reports. “We decided that if El C could obtain some type of variance to do liquor and food out on the sidewalk or parking lot, we would make that our next slow, safe step to reopening at both locations.”
As Williams explains it, if bars and/or restaurants have an existing permit for outdoor dining and service, you can extend that onto sidewalks or into parking places, not to exceed 30 seats. If you do not have an existing permit for outdoor service, you must file for a variance from the state. Williams says the process is surprisingly quick.
By utilizing new sidewalk real estate, Williams will gain 12-24 outdoor seats that he never had. To smooth the transition, those tables will be available to carry-out customers only to start and then converted to full-service dining by reservation. The same process will take place on Momocho's patio in Ohio City.
At both locations, all of the existing guidelines with respect to sanitization, training, masks, signage and social distancing still apply, says Williams.
“We’ve done everything that everyone else should have been doing,” he says.
Diners should expect scaled-back menus that are geared to carry-out service and efficient sidewalk and patio dining.
As is the case at El Carnicero, LBM has no existing outdoor seating. The recent developments out of Lakewood City Council are encouraging, says owner Eric Ho, but a few sidewalk seats will not be enough to convince him to reopen for full-service dining. (LBM currently offers take-out and delivery.)
“We’re aiming really high,” he states, regarding his push to close Lark Street between Madison and Thrush, a 500-foot right-of-way. “Our best-case scenario would be a full closure of Lark so we could do a lot of tables very well distanced. We’d be able to max out the 30 guests with 10 tables of three.”
What’s more, the arrangement would allow for a dedicated six-foot path for servers, while the three-top tables would keep one side open for service.
To quell resident concerns, outdoor service must stop at 10 p.m.
Ho says that he will learn more about the process at next week’s planning meeting.
“Hopefully it goes through, but also hopefully the numbers go down by the time we can open it,” he says. “Even though the city is pushing, I don’t know if I’m exactly ready to allow people to congregate.”