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How’s business been for locally owned restaurants since completely reopening?

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Food from Diablas Kitchen, Smitty’s and Tandoori Oven. | Courtesy Diablas Kitchen, Smitty’s and Tandoori Oven Facebook pages

IDAHO FALLS — While local restaurants are happy to greet guests inside their dining rooms again, it doesn’t mean business is completely back to normal.

In March, Gov. Brad Little announced an order that “non-essential” facilities and services were to close for 21 days. Dine-in restaurants were told to close, but drive-thru, carry out and delivery could continue.

Fast forward to July, and locally owned restaurants are now sharing how business has been since being able to reopen completely.

“(It was) exhilarating, to be honest,” Smitty’s General Manager Lonnie Mack told EastIdahoNews.com.

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Smitty’s, a pancake and steak house, completely shut down. When it reopened in May, Idaho was in Stage 3 of Gov. Little’s reopening plan, called Idaho Rebounds. At that time, Mack said Smitty’s had limitations such as being open at half-capacity.

“The first week we opened, it was a little bit slower. We hit about 70% of our sales from last year. And last week we were up about 30% over last year,” he said. “I was surprised to see that we were at that rate at that 70% with social distancing because basically, we’re looking at it as we’re running 50% of our capabilities, and we’re still hanging in there.”

Across town, Tandoori Oven, which serves Indian cuisine, did takeout and curbside deliveries. But without dine-in as an option during that timeframe, General Manager Jay Arora said business was slower.

The restaurant also only had about 70% of its workforce at the time.

“Over the past few weeks business has picked up. It’s still not where it used to be. But it’s definitely picked up,” Arora said. “We’re seeing a lot more dine-in, almost to the point where I’m at 50/50 on dine-in and take out.”

Deana Brower, owner of Diablas Kitchen, said her restaurant also served takeout. It went a different route from its traditional menu and instead did pre-order family-style dinners. It was such a hit that she said she might start doing it again.

Right now, Brower said Diablas Kitchen is fairly busy, and part of that can be credited to its new location.

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“We’re lucky because we are right in the middle of all the hotels, and our regular customers from before the move are happy for the new space and especially since now we can socially distance,” she said. “(In) our other space, that wasn’t even a possibility.”

Along with dine-in, a big part of Brower’s business is also catering, but it’s something that she said has suffered during COVID-19.

“The loss of catering because of the events being canceled has been significant,” she said. “Every event that I’ve had scheduled since March — and I’ve had some events scheduled for a year — they’ve all canceled.”

She’s not the only one to feel the virus’s effects. Mack said there are challenges in the food industry because of people’s perspectives and opinions on the virus.

“That was the only thing that really had me worried in general was it’s such a touchy, sensitive area for a lot of people, as well as it should be,” he said. “But how do we maintain running a business while trying to accommodate for the masses? That was the biggest challenge.”

Smitty’s, which is in week 9 of being reopen, has been working on improving service and wait times. But after its biggest rush of the day, Mack said the restaurant has to spend a lot more time cleaning up and sanitizing the areas for new guests.

Arora said it’s also been tough at Tandoori Oven because it’s continuing to practice social distancing, which in return, cuts the restaurant’s seating capacity. To make up for that, he moves a few tables outside on the weekends and offers outdoor seating.

“The front-of-house job has become a lot tougher because of the extra work involved in making sure that everyone sees we’re doing our part. But I think that’s what needs to happen in my opinion,” Arora said. “So if it takes extra work and extra labor, I guess that’s what we’re going to do until this gets figured out.”

Brower said she hopes people continue to come out and support the local restaurants.

“Be patient with us so we can do the best job to take care of you guys 100%. We have your best interests at heart,” Mack said. “We want to give you great service, we want to give you great food (and) we want to take care of you.”

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