Napa County rolls back on indoor dining after landing on COVID-19 watchlist

Beginning Thursday, Napa County joins other Bay Area counties that have halted indoor dining.

Napa is among 26 California counties on a state watch-list for rising COVID rates. 

After more than a month of serving customers inside, wine country eateries must revert to take-out or outdoor seating only. 

"We were starting to get some momentum, so it's really unfortunate to put the brakes on again," said Tom Finch, owner of Filippi's Pizza Grotto in Napa. 

"We're really sad about that because people have been taking such a good job taking care of themselves."

Fillippi's will lose 60 socially-distanced seats indoors, and make do with half that number on its patio. Finch jokes that he will make up for it by setting timers on everyone. 

"You're only allowed thirty minutes, then we're gonna move you out for the next group," he said wryly.

But unlike some proprietors, at least he has ample space.  

"We had a nice groove going inside, a lot of locals coming in, serving at 50 percent capacity," said Marc Gigantelli, Manager of Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin' BBQ. 

Hearing that indoor dining was ending, Gigantelli closed his dining room Tuesday, two days early. 

"We wanted to get a head start on it and we wanted to demonstrate to the public and community that we're taking this seriously," said Gigantelli. 

For al fresco dining, Bounty Hunter will use four outdoor tables in front of the restaurant, and create a patio in a back parking lot, with city approval. 

"My team and I had to scramble to get this patio out back, we had to get that together in one day, but we made it happen," said Gigantelli. 

Only some indoor venues are nixed: restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries, movie theatres, museums, and card rooms. But hair salons and retail stores can still welcome customers indoors. 

"It is definitely hard to make sense with what they're choosing to let stay open and what to close," said Carlos Santos, Manager of Downtown Joe's, a brewpub. 

The state specifies brewpubs are not allowed to operate indoor or outdoor, but Santos said he believes, as a restaurant, Downtown Joe's can shift to outdoor service. 

Losing the indoor option, he admits, is a financial loss. 

"Anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 a day, and that's just for us," said Santos. 
"It's unfortunate but we're just trying to keep the public safe, keep our staff safe, and keep families at home safe." 

With warm weather, many customers say they prefer to eat in the fresh air, both as a precaution and because it's pleasant. 

But if the indoor prohibitions are still happening beyond summer?  

"Generally I don't like eating in the rain, but we'll see," smiled Gigantelli. 
"This is all happening on a week-by-week basis, so we're essentially rolling with the punches."  

The continuing flux makes hiring and planning difficult for restaurants. 
And fixed costs such as rent, utilities, and insurance don't stop. 

"It's really going to be difficult for restaurants to toggle back and forth," warned Finch. "If they keep doing this, there's going to be some catastrophes, people who can't get through this."

Napa is not alone making these rollbacks.

Solano rolled back indoor dining last week, Marin just a few days ago, and Sonoma County could be next.

Other Bay Area counties have yet to allow indoor dining at all.