A mixed bag for restaurants in Douglas County

Posted at 6:39 PM, May 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-15 22:07:10-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It’s been 11 days since Governor Pete Ricketts loosened in-person dining restrictions in 59 Nebraska counties, including Douglas County. A week and a half later, how are these restaurants faring?

“It’s been slow, but we expected it to be slow,” said Zoe Olson, the Nebraska Restaurant Association Executive Director.

Olson said restaurants have upped their already high sanitation standards and are making sure staff and guests are protected at all times.

“I often joke about it but I do feel safer eating in restaurants than many of my friends homes,” Olson said. “We don’t in our homes sanitize in a way that we do at restaurants.”

An April survey filled out by restaurant association members found two-percent of restaurants are closed permanently and four-percent are expected to close due to the pandemic. With restaurants being the second-largest employer in the state, Olson said it should be each owner’s decision whether they decide to allow dine-in services now.

“I can’t think of many restaurants that could survive economically another shutdown and our staffs couldn’t take another layoff or furlough,” Olson said. “If we want to get the economy back, it’s really important for restaurants to do everything they can to support the health official’s information and do exactly what they tell us to do so we are doing our part to not help the virus spread any more. Anything we can do that’s what we’re doing.”

However, not every restaurant opened back up to dining in last week in Omaha. Fernando’s, a restaurant located on 114th is one of the many in town that are sticking with carry-out only for the time being.

“We’ve had a lot of positive comments from social media and people who came through the door,” said Mitch Tempus, the co-owner of the restaurant with his wife Carole. “We believe we have made the right decision at this point in time.”

With a limited staff of 25 people, Tempus said his restaurant can’t be run the way he wants it run, at 50-percent capacity, while still taking care of the to-go business.

“I don’t think we would have enough customers coming in and I think there are still fearful of what is happening and are not coming in the restaurants as much as they would,” Tempus said.

In the meantime Tempus needed to furlough roughly 50 employees between his two locations. He’s looking forward to the day he can bring them back.

“Staff are family, literally or figuratively,” Olson said. “We care about our staff.”

“It will be a great day, we’re looking forward to that very much,” Tempus said.

The Nebraska Restaurant Association said restaurants being able to sell non-retail food products and paper supplies and allowing them to sell alcohol to-go orders have also helped them survive during the pandemic.

Watch reporter Phil Bergman’s story in the above video.