Open and Shut

An alarming rise in COVID-19 cases leads to a growing number of Pima County restaurateurs to consider voluntarily closing their dining rooms

Just last week, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero issued a proclamation making face coverings mandatory within city limits after Gov. Ducey took the handcuffs off local municipalities and allowed them to set their own standards. One day later, the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to require masks be worn in public immediately through the county.

At this point, debating questions like "Was it too soon to reopen the state?" seems moot to business owners and customers alike. We all know the answer. The proof is in the actions local Arizona governments are taking to protect its citizens at the moment.

However, local restaurateurs and bar owners are now faced with making a tough decision on whether they should return to carry-out and delivery service to curb the spread of coronavirus.

BK Carne Asada and Hot Dogs switched over to delivery, carryout, and drive-through service on Thursday, June 18, at both their locations in response to the growing number of coronavirus cases in Pima County—and the state—each day.

"Just by seeing these numbers of positive cases each day, I think they are too high," owner Benjamin Galaz said. "I'm concerned about my customers and employees, as well."

Galaz said his two locations have been busy since Gov. Doug Ducey lifted the shutdown order on May 12. However, long lines of customers not wearing COVID-19 masks during the restaurant's lunch and dinner rushes have given the owner cause for concern. Galaz said he feels it's his duty to keep his community safe and healthy during the pandemic.

"I think there are too many people in one spot. We're following all the rules from the health department, but I'm really concerned about the rising (COVID-19) numbers," Galaz said. "There are just too many positive cases in one day and something has to be done."

The Sonoran dog baron wants other restaurant owners to join him in helping halt the advance of COVID-19 by closing their dining rooms and moving to delivery and take-out service.

"I would like to ask them to think about what's going on right now. If they could do what we're doing, I think it could help bring those numbers down because the community is very important for all of us," Galaz said.

Little Anthony's Diner owner Tony Terry agrees with Galaz that more local restaurant owners should consider shutting down their dining rooms during the pandemic. He said it was an easy decision to make considering how fast coronavirus is spreading in Pima County.

"I love my customers and I love my staff, and I'm concerned," Terry said. "It was an easy decision until things calm down and we get a handle on it. I really think every responsible business owner in Tucson should do the same thing.

Terry also owns Grandma Tony's Pizza which has donated more than 2,000 free pies to health care workers and first-responders since the pandemic began. Lately, the demand has "shot through the roof again," Terry said. He talks to health care workers on a daily basis and regularly hears about how local hospitals are filling up at an alarming rate.

"We have a lot of contacts we talk to on a daily basis and the state of the hospitals being as full as they are right now is really concerning," Terry said. "If I feel comfortable that at least we're not overwhelming the hospitals and could at least get the help they need to get, maybe I would feel a bit more confident reopening."

Fire N' Smoke Wood-Fired Pizza and BBQ also decided to close their dining room last Tuesday. Co-owner Lindy Reilly also said it was an easy decision to make, considering most of his business has been carryout since reopening the dining room mid-May.

"We did record numbers on Father's Day, but I had four tables all day long. It was all to-go (sales)," Reilly said. "This is an easy decision to make. I'll save a ton on labor."

Reilly said he had hoped to keep his dining room but with a lack of dine-in business over the past month, keeping a dine-in staff doesn't make sense. He plans on sticking with the carryout format until a cure—or a miracle—eradicates COVID-19.

"This is it," Reilly said. "Until this (pandemic) is 100 percent all clear, I'm just going to stay serving to-go."

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