SAN FRANCISCO - For the first time in seven months, the House of Prime Rib, a San Francisco institution, opened its doors Thursday evening.
Already, it has reservations booked for months.
The owners, a father and son team, say they've been nervously waiting for months to be able to reopen for indoor dining with new safety guidelines.
Customers and employees get their temperatures checked and there is a bottle of hand sanitizer at every table.
When Joe Betz and his son Steven was asked when they started planning for reopening, Steven replied, "March 18th. Every partition, every rug, every table has been cleaned, sanitized."
The owners say pre-pandemic, 280 people can be seated at one time. Now, the restaurant is operating at 25% capacity-meaning only 68 people allowed.
"Just do your best. Stay safe," Joe Betz tells his staff just before the doors opened.
On this first night, Betz says he never considered closing his restaurant for good.
"All my life, I've always worked since I'm 14. Six months doing nothing drove me crazy," says Betz.
He says the restaurant has been his life since 1985 when he took over.
Reopening has meant he can bring back half his staff.
Reservations are required. One couple, the first customers to arrive before the doors opened at 4:30 p.m. First seating was at 5 p.m.
Larry Ray says he and his partner are here to celebrate their 23rd anniversary.
"We come two or three times a year. I've been here 33 years. I've come here a lot."
Workers are glad to be back after months of unemployment to serve up the star of the show: the rock-salt encrusted prime rib, that eventually makes its way out to the carving stations that will now be stationery.
"It was a spur of the moment last minute reservation on OpenTable," says Blake Criswell who was able to book a reservation just hours earlier.
He and his family say they were not comfortable with indoor dining until now.
"It just feels really nice, like a return to normal," says Sara Jones of San Francisco.
"Here you go. Thank you. I wish I could see your smile," here you go...thank you...I wish i could see your smile," says Steven Betz as he brought out the restaurant's first take-out order to customer Tiffany Lei. She says her friends weren't ready for indoor dining, but still wanted their House of Prime Rib fix.
"We were stalking the restaurant. It's true and we're super-excited," says Lei.
Despite enjoying decades of popularity, Betz says he's pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed by a loyal customer base.
The restaurant has received 3,000 reservations and counting. It's booked through January.
"I like people. I like to be around people. I need people," says Joe Betz.
He offers his apologies to customers who are not able to get reservations.
Betz says there are cancellations so please keep trying.