MERIDEN — One year ago Huxley’s Bookmark Cafe opened a brand new location on East Main Street and a steady crowd of customers kept the restaurant busy all day.
This year chairs are stacked on tables and things are much quieter.
Like all restaurants in the state, the breakfast and lunch spot was forced to close for in-person dining in mid-March. On Wednesday, restaurants were allowed to open outdoor seating to the public, provided they follow specific guidelines.
“This time last year was our big opening, now we have our outdoor (big) opening,” owner Dimitrios Klonaras said.
Huxley’s, 1376 E. Main St., set up six outdoor picnic tables in parking spots. The tables each hold about four people and have umbrellas. They are at least six feet apart.
Klonaras said he was surprised that more people didn’t come out Wednesday. The restaurant opened at 6:30 a.m. and only had one customer, a regular, for breakfast.
“We had expectations that people would be sitting (outside) because the weather is nice,” he said.
Around 11:45 a.m., a couple of parties came by for lunch, including mother and son Mary and Dylan Rowland. Dylan Rowland normally works for Huxley’s as a piano player.
The East Berlin residents have been patrons at Huxley’s for years.
The guidelines set by the governor’s office for outdoor dining include rules for sanitation, capacity, employee safety and setup. Restaurants can only open to 50 percent of their normal capacity, and parties must be limited to five people. Customers must wear face masks, except when actively eating or drinking.
The guidelines say restaurants are required to keep the flow of customers one-way, with social distancing markers when needed, and keep a log of how often the restrooms are cleaned. The menus, silverware and condiments should all be single use. If menus are not paper, they must be sanitized after every use.
Hand sanitizer and disinfectant should be made available in common areas.
At Cava in Southington, Krysten Spencer and Sherri Fontaine were the only people in the restaurant when they arrived for lunch. They initially weren’t sure how they’d feel coming out to eat, but seeing the precautions at the restaurant made them feel safer.
The safeguards included spacing out tables, using paper and online menus, a new air filtration system for the interior air conditioning and dedicating one staff member to sanitizing surfaces during busy times.
“If I felt in any way it wasn’t safe, I wouldn’t be here,” said Antonio Papahristou, the restaurant’s general manager.
Though Cava also got off to a slow start with lunch, Papahristou said every one of the 70 open tables was reserved for dinner. Half are on the roof and the restaurant is in the process of acquiring a 30 by 90 foot tent to install over one of the side parking lots to add another 70 outdoor tables.
The restaurant also closed on a deal Wednesday to purchase an adjacent two-acre parcel to expand the restaurant and create a new parking lot.
Even just seeing one table filled outside Flair Restaurant and Bar in Southington was enough to get co-owner Jose Delgado excited. He said most people go into the food industry to serve customers.
“I’m grinning, it's so good,” Delgado said.
Flair can seat around 35 diners outside right now and is looking to add more tables.
Co-owner Hector Delgado hopes to see those tables filled with customers over the coming days and ultimately have the inside of the restaurant reopened in June.
“I hope it’s going to be great. As long as people protect themselves, I hope it’s busy,” he said.
Flair’s first customers of the day Wednesday, Meriden residents Michelle and David Brodin, said they have eaten a lot of takeout in recent weeks and were glad to sit back down at a restaurant.
David Brodin said being able to eat out is about more than the food.
“It’s what our social life is,” he said. “Conversations with the bartender, conversations with the person next to you.”