On a recent Monday at Binchoyaki in Southside Park, people were lined up under the restaurant’s awning, but they weren’t waiting for food. They were waiting to be tested for COVID-19.
Since August, Binchoyaki has partnered with US Medical Distributors, a company based out of Pasadena, to run a free testing site out of their patio. It’s set up every Monday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is open to the neighborhood. Co-owner Tokiko Sawada said they began offering these tests initially as a way to keep their own employees safe, but decided they should just open it up to the public given the shortage of testing.
“We wanted to make sure we had a resource for anybody who needed to get tested so they could protect themselves and protect others too,” Sawada said. “Might as well give them an opportunity to use our patio as well because on Mondays we’re closed.”
Across the city of Sacramento, restaurants and restaurant workers have been handling the omicron COVID-19 surge in different ways without further guidance from county health officials. Sawada added that during the first few months their site was open, the flow of people coming to their site was relatively slow, but she’s seen it pick up dramatically in the past few weeks.
“We’ve been doing on average almost a hundred a week, but the last two weeks, it’s been really over a hundred easily,” she said.
Co-owner Craig Takehara said that on the first Monday after the holidays their testing site was slammed.
“Some weeks have been pretty busy, some weeks have been pretty slow, today has been kind of a nightmare,” Takehara said. “We had a line of 50 people before we even opened [Jan. 3] and it just has not stopped.”
Sacramento county announced last week that they would not be taking extra measures like closing businesses, restricting indoor dining or mandating vaccination status during this surge — leaving business owners to decide on the rules and boundaries of safety on their own.
“We continue to monitor the situation … at this point we do not have any steps that we are planning to take. I think it’s really important for individuals to again look at their risk and take every measure that they can to protect themselves,” said Dr. Olivia Kasirye, Sacramento Public Health Officer, in a press briefing last week. “We are not requiring businesses to do the verifications at this time but definitely businesses can choose to do so.”
Restaurants have made decisions on their own about how to protect staff, but the response to the surge has varied from business to business.
At Ink Eats & Drinks in Midtown, general manager Megan Cole said the restaurant will remain open to both indoor and outdoor dining, though masks are required.
“We have some employees who have been down to work and wanted to take the opportunity to make some money while we do have this unique situation, and other employees who don’t,” Cole said, saying that they’ve been allowing employees to use sick time if they don’t feel comfortable working during the surge.
“Everybody’s different, we like to be accommodating to everyone, same with guests,” Cole said.
She reported they have had some staff test positive in recent weeks, but they allowed those employees to take the appropriate amount of time off until they tested negative. She said her priority has been to keep her business open but allow staff flexibility to take time off.
“We do have a responsibility to be available to the community, lots of our patrons who come in are other businesses who don’t have the opportunity to work from home, and we just wanted to do our best to not close and be somewhere the community can go,” Cole said.
Tim Stewart is a server at Ink and has been working since the summer.
“Since the new variant, I have some friends who have chosen to take more time off work, I’m pretty much by myself all the time so I’m less afraid of who I might infect in my home life, but I know some people have children or older parents and they’ve chosen to take time off,” Stewart said.
Ink said they’re operating at about 50% of their normal staffing levels due to people taking time off and the overall worker shortage. Stewart urged customers as a result to exercise patience when dining.
“Remember kindness because we are real people trying to serve you food. And you never know if you’re coming at the end of someone’s shift or the beginning of their second shift of the day, so just remember to practice kindness and assume positive intent,” he said.
Other restaurants have chosen to temporarily close. Binchoyaki gave their employees a week off and will return Wednesday. The restaurant has not had any positive COVID-19 cases reported among its staff yet. Binchoyaki will be reopening just for outdoor dining and take out.
The Federalist in Midtown, despite having only outdoor dining, closed for a week to keep its employees safe as well.
“While nobody here is testing positive or has been infected or tested positive with the new virus,
we think it's probably best that we pause on reopening for just a second and come back next week and see how everything shakes out,” founder Marvin Maldonado said in an Instagram message earlier this month.
The Federalist will reopen on Thursday, Jan. 13.
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