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Diners begin to return to Arizona restaurants on limited basis

(KTAR News Photo/Kevin Stone)

PHOENIX — Restaurants in Arizona began resuming dine-in service Monday in the next phase of reopening the economy during the coronavirus outbreak.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced a week ago that customers could return to sit-down dining under social-distancing guidelines that include party limits of 10 and comprehensive sanitation techniques and employee guidelines.

From large chains to local mom-and-pop eateries, restaurants prepared to host patrons for the first time in nearly two months.

Weekend regular Cathy Franklin made a special trip to visit the Chompie’s near her Paradise Valley home early in the morning.

“Back to normal … whatever normal is,” she told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

Franklin said she received an email from the chain explaining how it would be protecting customers and staff.

Chompie’s managing partner Joseph DeMatteo said tables were placed 6 feet part, per guidelines, and large plexiglass partitions were installed between booths.

“We’re all wearing masks, we all have gloves on,” he said. “Everything is getting sanitized after every use.”

Restrooms are being checked every 15 minutes and hand sanitizer is available to customers in three spots in the dining area, he added.

Phoenix-based restaurateur Sam Fox, the founder of Fox Restaurant Concepts, said 11 of his stores opened Monday in four markets. Flower Child locations in Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix and Tucson are open, along with The Henry and Dough Bird. He plans to follow with several Culinary Dropout and Zinburger locations in the coming days.

“Our goal is not to be busy for the first week,” Fox told The Associated Press. “Our goal is to make sure we have our procedures in place, our employees are feeling safe. We really want to get this right the first time.”

The usually crowded Flower Child in the Phoenix neighborhood of Arcadia had many tables missing. Some of the others were marked as reserved to maintain distance between customers. A handful of people dined on salads, bowls or entrees, but most of the food went as takeout.

Ducey’s stay-home order, which went into effect March 31, is in effect through May 15. He extended it, with modifications, before it was initially set to expire at the end of April.

He allowed retail stores, hair salons and barbershops following guidelines to reopen Friday.

Ducey made the decisions about opening up while citing a downward trend in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

However, some restaurants have said they will remain closed until the governor’s stay-at-home order expires or they feel prepared to meet new conditions.

On the Navajo Nation, which is seeing some of the highest infection rates in the United States, restaurants remain limited to takeout and delivery. The tribal president was considering extending the restriction beyond May 17, when it is set to expire.

Ducey said other businesses and facilities, including gyms and swimming pools, will be allowed to open later.

He said he’s still discussing the best dates and safety protocols with industry representatives. Movie theaters have asked to reopen on July 15 and don’t expect film studios to release movies before then, he said.

The governor has been hammered by some fellow Republican lawmakers who were angered by his extended closure order amid the tanking economy.

Some Republicans fumed when he warned business owners that they’d put their liquor licenses at risk if they defied his orders and reopened before it was authorized.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jim Cross and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

For all articles, information and updates on the coronavirus from KTAR News, visit ktar.com/coronavirus.

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