Sonoma County moves deeper into Phase 2 of reopening

In time for the holiday weekend, some restaurant relief is arriving in the North Bay. 

At midnight Saturday, Sonoma County joins Napa and Solano counties in easing restrictions on dining.

"It's a good step forward for Sonoma County, we're pleased we've been able to get to this point," said Supervisor David Rabbitt, whose district includes Petaluma, home to many restaurants.

After surviving on take-out business, restaurant owners are ready to seat and serve their customers again. 

"It's really happening, and I got all choked up when I heard, it's been a rough couple of months, " said Sharon McAuley, owner of Wild Goat Bistro in downtown Petaluma. 

She estimates her income was 25% of normal.  

"It's going to be amazing and I'm sure there will be tears, we can't do hugs, but it's going to be great to see people." 

The Phase 2 variance the state approved allows for outdoor dining only, and with specific pandemic control precautions 

Wild Goat Bistro has a walkway entrance that doubles as a patio.

Now that it is the sole dining room, McAuley will double the number of tables to eight. 

One wrinkle? Not only are all members of a dining group required to arrive together, they are supposed to be from the same household. 

"How do you enforce that?," wondered McAuley. "We've had that conversation, just how do you enforce something like that ?" 

Supervisor Rabbitt says no order is airtight, and "it's going to be about all of our behaviors rather than the orders themselves," in order to curb Covid spread. 

He is concerned about numerous eateries in the county with little- or no- outdoor space.
City and county regulators are looking at ways tables can be set up creatively outdoors, so few proprietors are shut out. 

"It might look like closing off the parking lot in front of a restaurant to use that space or any right of way one can acquire," said Rabbitt.

"We're looking at those things, working with those folks, trying to think outside the box and find solutions for them."

Wineries tend to have plentiful outdoor space, and tasting rooms can reopen, but with all service shifted outside. 

Before they pour again, a different challenge: wine must be served with a meal. 

Not all tasting rooms are set up to prepare or store food. 

Some actually have use permits that prohibit it. 

"Is a meal a charcuterie platter, is it a taco, or is it a three course white tablecloth meal, none of that is resolved," said Mike Martini, owner of Taft Street Winery in Sebastopol, and a board member of Sonoma County Vintners. 

Martini expects some wineries will partner with restaurants and others will hire food trucks. 

At Taft Street, Martini was bringing lumber in on Friday to build new picnic tables to expand capacity on his outdoor terrace. 

He predicts wineries will move cautiously.   

"If everybody opened at once there could be a lot of problems," cautioned Martini.

"There will be a slow reopening as we watch each other, and watch what works and what doesn't work."

After waiting this long, many restaurateurs are unsure what to expect this weekend: a trickle or a flood ?

"Do we turn our reservations system back on? I don't know, it's like starting all over from scratch," said McAuley.

"I'll have a late night getting prepared for all this, and it's very exciting. " 

She knows owners like herself want to make sure the reopening - with precautions- is a positive experience for staff and customers. 

"On a holiday weekend, maybe shake it up and get out, sit on a patio with a meal and a glass of wine, that's what Sonoma's all about!"