Outdoor seating has been a lifeline this summer for some restaurants lucky enough to have it, but it comes with challenges, and worse, it’ll end with cold weather.
For Drew Fleming, who owns the Original Pancake House on Madison’s Far West Side, the most recent challenge has been bees attracted to syrup.
Like most local restaurateurs, Fleming closed in mid-March. Although the breakfast foods he serves are best eaten at the restaurant, Fleming reopened in late April for takeout.
At the end of May, he began indoor dining at the city-county mandated 25% capacity, moving briefly to 50% for the short time it was allowed. Then he went back to 25%, where it stands now.
He also bought 13 tables and set them up in an area of his parking lot to supplement what he could do inside. Everything was going great until about three weeks ago when the bees came out.
Fleming solved the problem by finding individual screen netting to go over each table, and said it’s been well received. “You just sort of have to adapt to whatever happens and keep going,” he said.
His customers no longer have to worry about getting stung, but with September here, he’s got winter on this mind. “We’ll just keep going and going until it gets cold and then who knows what’s going to happen,” Fleming said.
Fleming is one of about 87 restaurant and bar owners taking advantage of the city’s “Streatery” program, modeled after efforts around the world to help restaurants during COVID-19 restrictions by helping them increase their outdoor dining areas by extending into streets, parking spaces, parking lots and alleys. Twenty-six other applications are pending in Madison.
The efforts are in response to public health data suggesting that al fresco dining is a safer option than eating indoors in restaurants. Or as Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich put it, “a restaurant patio is a calculated risk.”
Madison street vending coordinator Meghan Blake-Horst called Fleming’s netting a creative solution. “They’re all trying to get their last little hurrah before they hibernate,” she said.
Winter on the way
The Streatery program, enacted through a citywide emergency order, allows for a streamlined administrative approval process with all fees waived. It’s set to expire Oct. 25, but a resolution is before the City Council to extend it through April 14 of next year. The resolution, sponsored by Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Downtown Ald. Mike Verveer, 4th District, was introduced to the council on Tuesday and is scheduled to be discussed at its Sept. 15 meeting.
Blake-Horst is working with city staff on details such as snow removal and heating elements. She said the stance of Public Health Madison & Dane County is that if a business puts even one wall up on a tent, it’s considered a closed structure, which no longer has proper air flow and ventilation to be considered outdoor seating.
From a health perspective, she said, a tent with walls and no ventilation is almost worse than dining indoors because inside a restaurant there’s ventilation and other air movement that a tent with four walls doesn’t offer.
Besides the public health department, fire officials are also helping work out what type of winter covering could meet public health and fire code requirements.
“Businesses have some interesting ideas and I’m hearing a lot of them and now we all have to just come up with something that works for everybody,” Blake-Horst said.
Daryl Sisson, co-owner of Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery on Atwood Avenue, spent $17,000 repaving his parking lot, and $3,000 on outdoor furniture, and he can seat 84 people on the resulting patio. It’s one person less than he can seat inside under normal circumstances. Daisy is offering inside dining at the city-county mandated 25% capacity.
Because of the Streatery program, he said sales this summer “have been surprisingly and happily close to last year’s.”
Sisson, who drives a cab to supplement his income, said his biggest focus now is what he’ll do at Daisy come winter. He’s looking into outdoor heaters, but also on how to make his indoor space safer: ventilation and air filtration systems, surface protectants and barriers.
“I’m just absolutely thinking, OK, I’m running out of time here,” he said. “It’s going to be November, December, January, February soon. And I gotta have a good answer for dining inside because we barely seat inside at all.”
Only so much room
Nathan Mergen, who opened 107 State at that address in June 2019, said Streatery has been successful for him on some level, but there’s only so much room for him to expand on State Street.
He was able to add eight seats, for a total of 20 outdoor seats, but said it’s nothing compared to the 19 restaurants and bars in the five “cafe zones” the city has established on the 100 blocks of East Mifflin, East and West Main and South Pinckney streets and the 1900 block of Atwood Avenue.
Mergen said he might have been able to expand into the nearby West Mifflin Street cul de sac, but when Streatery started early this summer, he didn’t have enough customers to fill the seats that he had, so he didn’t pursue it.
In June, following the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, protests and unrest centered on the top block of State Street kept outdoor diners away. Business eventually improved, but then came the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, and State Street protests and property damage resumed.
Mergen said if could fill his small number of outdoor seats every day, 107 State could stay alive, but all of his business comes on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, “and we have nothing on Wednesday and Thursday.” He’s closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Until the Blake shooting, he thought he’d been making strides. “At this point, I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to go anywhere but backwards, to be honest with you.”
Cari Scott, co-owner of Ogden’s North Street Diner, said she closed from mid-March until the beginning of July when her staff felt more comfortable coming back. The diner then switched to a counter service model to reduce the time her staff interacted with customers.
She has six tables behind the building in an outdoor dining area she created under Streatery, which replaces about half of what she has inside. So far, it’s working OK, she said. “People seem to like it. And it’s gone pretty well for the staff, too.”
Scott’s not seating inside with the current capacity restriction and will make a judgment about reopening the interior when patio season ends. Since Ogden’s is a breakfast and lunch spot, it’s not geared as well for takeout, but Scott said the community has been supportive nonetheless.
She’s reduced the diner’s hours, and has brought 11 of her 14 employees back. Scott said she’s breaking even now. “It’ll remain to be seen what happens when the outdoor dining goes away, how sustainable that will end up being.”
Different rules for bars
Brian Carriveau, co-owner of Bierock, has been using some sidewalk space in the Northside TownCenter for outdoor dining under the Streatery program. His patio is open six days a week, but Carriveau is worried the few customers he gets will disappear once the weather turns colder.
He said his biggest problem is that he’s classified as a bar, not a restaurant, so under city-county health orders, he’s unable to offer even restricted indoor dining.
“We’ve found it difficult to be treated differently than restaurants when we operate quite similarly,” he said.
Bierock has been doing takeout since the business opened, but after the pandemic began, he added his own carryout ordering website through Square, which has helped. Still, he said, Bierock isn’t overwhelmed by takeout orders.
Blake-Horst, the city’s street vending coordinator, said with street occupancy fees waived and the extension of premises for alcohol licensing fees waived, restaurant owners just had to buy more tables and chairs and possibly fencing. If they’re using the street, they’ve needed curb stops and barriers to protect the cafes from traffic.
Under city-county health orders, outdoor areas must have 6-foot physical distancing between tables. Bars are restricted to carryout and outdoor seating, and all dining and drinking must be done seated.
Blake-Horst said it’s been gratifying to help businesses get creative with their outdoor dining and help them survive the COVID-19 crisis.
“We are very aware of what the businesses are looking for moving into the winter, and working as best as we can to come up with a solution to extend the program for them.”
10 Madison restaurants with enhanced outdoor seating thanks to city's Streatery program
Outdoor seating has been a lifeline this summer for some restaurants lucky enough to have it, but it comes with challenges, and worse, an approaching end date with colder weather on the way.
About 87 restaurant and bar owners are taking advantage of the city's "Streatery" program, modeled after efforts around the world to help restaurants during COVID-19 restrictions by helping them increase their outdoor dining areas by extending into streets, parking spaces, parking lots and alleys. Twenty-six other applications are pending in Madison.
The efforts are in response to public heath data that suggests that al fresco dining is a safer option than eating indoors in restaurants. Or as Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich put it, "a restaurant patio is a calculated risk."
Here are 10 Madison restaurants and bars taking part in Streatery.
The Ohio Tavern has seating for 22 outside the bar at 224 Ohio Ave. Under the city's Streatery program, it was able to extend its outdoor seat…
Brasserie V, 1923 Monroe St., has had its outdoor seating since late July with four tables on the sidewalk in front, and six tables in back. T…
On the 1900 block of Atwood Avenue a Streatery cafe zone uses beer barrels and lattice to create patio seating extending into parking spots wi…
Ogden's North Street Diner, 560 North St., has six tables seating as many as 16 people behind the restaurant, which serves breakfast and lunch…
Canteen, 111 S. Hamilton St., has 23 tables which can seat 54 people. Customers order at a pick-up window on the Carroll Street side. Canteen …
"Madison's Official Birthday Place," the Nitty Gritty, 223 N. Frances St., has added six tables on the Frances Street side of the building tha…
Original Pancake House, 5518 University Ave., is using six of its parking spaces for outdoor seating. Its 13 outdoor tables are now covered wi…
The owners of Daisy Cafe & Cupcakery, 2827 Atwood Ave., spent $17,000 repaving their parking lot, and $3,000 on outdoor furniture, and can…
Bierock, 2911 N. Sherman Ave., has been using sidewalk space in the Northside TownCenter for outdoor dining under the Streatery program. The p…
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