Some restaurateurs are ready to open, say sooner is better than later

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 21, 2020 4:00 AM CT | Published: April 21, 2020 4:00 AM CT

Gov. Bill Lee said Monday, April 20, he won’t extend Tennessee’s safer-at-home order that expires April 30, paving the way for businesses, including restaurants, to start reopening next week.

But Shelby County is one of six counties across the state that will set its own timeline.

Restaurateurs reject May 1 reopening recommendation

Lee said that larger counties, which have their own health departments, would establish their schedules and guidelines to reopen; it’s not known yet what they will be in Memphis, Shelby County or its other municipalities. 

Ernie Mellor, president of the Memphis Restaurant Association, is on a committee advising Lee about how to go about reopening restaurants. On Monday, the committee recommended a May 1 date and that restaurants start out limiting seating at 50%, move to 75% after two weeks, then to 100% after four weeks.

<strong>Ernie Mellor</strong>

Ernie Mellor

Mellor said Monday he does not expect local restaurants to reopen May 1.

“We won’t open here until they lift the stay-at-home order,” he said. “If anyone has common business sense, they should know Shelby County won’t open on May 1.

“But we would like to open May 1 and will open as soon as the stay-at-home order is lifted.”

Some restaurateurs told The Daily Memphian they are against opening May 1, saying it’s too soon. Others said Monday that they support the date; one bluntly said he needs it to be soon.

“Am I ready to open? No, I’m not ready, but I have to or I will go out of business,” said Tim Bednarksi, owner of Elwood’s Shack.

“I will do what I have to do. If I can only put two tables in the dining room, I’ll do it. I’ll put patio tables on the grassy area. I’ll scan foreheads if I have to. We already take employees’ temperature every morning and I’ve ordered a laser thermometer anyway.”

Walker Taylor owns the Germantown Commissary and the Collierville Commissary; he’s ready to open.

“Look, everybody has got to do their own deal. A lot of it depends on the demographics of where you are. I certainly feel for the people Downtown and can see it may not make financial sense for them to open yet with big companies not having employees back,” Taylor said. “And if you don’t think it’s time to open because you think it’s too early due to the virus, that’s OK.

“As far as us, I want to open, but I’m not going to open up my dining rooms for 10 people at a time. That’s not workable. If we spaced people every other table, or went with Ernie’s idea of 50% for two weeks, that seems workable,” Taylor said.

Shawn Danko is ready to reopen both locations of Kooky Canuck in Downtown and Cordova.

“If the government guidance from the state, the county and the city is to reopen May 1, then we are ready to open May 1,” he said. “We will follow whatever guidelines are issued. We’re in the food safety business and it behooves us to operate safely and wisely, which we will do.”

He said he will not require his staff to return, but will give them the option.

“If they think it’s too soon, then they don’t have to come back. If they’re not comfortable, we’ll hang on and offer them their job back later.”

But will the diners come?

“I think this is a decision as polarized as much as Republicans and Democrats are,” Danko said. “You’ll have a group of people that are like ‘bring it, let’s go’ and another group of people who are more cautious, who will want to wait, to stay at home longer.”

Southaven, just over the Mississippi border, is allowing restaurants to reopen April 27 at 33% occupancy; there’s a Huey’s there.

“The (Southaven) mayor has given his approval for restaurants to open on Monday, but we haven’t decided if Huey’s is going to open,” Huey’s special project coordinator Samantha Dean said. “We have to see what’s right for our employees and our customers.”

They have cloth masks for all employees and have purchased an additional 10,000 disposable masks, but Dean said there are numerous considerations that will be taken up when Huey’s executive committee meets this week to discuss reopening.

“What if someone were to get it there? What could that do to our brand?” she said. “That’s one thing to consider on top of other things. I think we need to see a decline in cases for 14 days straight to consider opening.”

The Southaven occupancy percentage is low, Danko said.

“It would be awfully difficult at 33%,” he said. “In some models it would be better to just continue takeout at that point.”

Danny Sumrall, owner of the Half Shell, said that sure, he would like to open May 1.

“If I’m told we can open May 1, I’m all in. If it’s May 7 or 14 or June 1, then I’m in then,” he said. “I think every restaurateur in the city would rather it be sooner than later. But it depends on if cases are declining, if we have a grip on things.

“There’s a lot that has to happen first, so I think it’ll probably be a while before we fling the doors open,” Sumrall said.

“But I’m looking forward to that day.”


Walker Taylor Shawn Danko Ernie Mellor Danny Sumrall
Jennifer Biggs

Jennifer Biggs

Jennifer Biggs is a native Memphian and veteran food writer and journalist who covers all things food, dining and spirits related for The Daily Memphian.


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