NUTLEY, NJ - A small sigh of relief for Nutley restaurant and bar owners. Starting Friday, Sept. 4, New Jersey residents can enjoy dining out again without the fear of rain ruining their meals. On Monday, Aug. 31, Gov. Phil Murphy gave the green light to open up indoor dining at a 25 percent capacity and other COVID-19 safety restrictions.
Restaurants shut their doors in March when the pandemic was peaking; offering take-out and delivery options and later added outdoor dining which many smaller establishments were unable participant in. Nella Cicchino, owner of Mamma Vittoria Catering 160 Franklin Ave. was one of the restaurants in town that temporally closed for almost six-months. “A lot of businesses are not able to open; we lost a lot of restaurants because of no income,” she said.
Cicchino, who is a Nutley resident, was unaware Murphy would give less than a week notice. “It’s too short a notice for this Friday but the following Friday I will be opening up,” she said.
Due to the location of Mamma Vittoria Catering, Cicchino was unable to set up outside dining and her establishment does not offer take-out or delivery options. Although closed from March to September, she understands the reasoning. “Safety is most important and should always be at the forefront,” she said.
However, Cicchino does not believe the governor handled reopening New Jersey fairly. On June 22, barbershops and salons were given the clearance and on June 29, malls opened their doors. Murphy loosened restrictions again for physical fitness centers on Sept. 1. “I think given that everything else that has been opened already it would have been nice to be open sooner,” she said.
Cicchino said she would do everything possible to keep her guests and staff safe. She is installing hand sanitizing stations and proper signage and purchased thermometers to conduct temperature checks. In addition, other health and safety measures are in place. The kitchen staff will keep distance and the dining area will be set to the protocol of six feet by spacing out the tables.
Cicchino is not happy with the governor’s ruling of 25 percent capacity. “Twenty-five percent is difficult to be viable to cover your overhead expenses. It is very difficult. I’m not a medical expert but I would have liked to see it at 50 percent as a business point of view,” she said,
Optimism is the outlook Mama Vittoria Catering is keeping in mind. “We are excited to be open and looking forward to a good start and a higher percentage very soon,” said Cicchino.
The Oakley—Kitchen & Cocktails, 789 Bloomfield Ave. was open for outdoor dining and take-out throughout the pandemic. Likewise, owner Khris Reina, also of Nutley, is scrambling since Murphy gave the OK. “We all thought we would have at least a two-week notice to get ready. I'm not sure he understands that you can’t just snap your fingers and have indoor dining,” he said.
However, he too is happy with the news. “We lost about $2,000 of business last Thursday when that storm hit us hard in the middle of dinner service,” Reina said.
Luna Wood Fire Tavern, 223 Franklin Ave. also offered outdoor dining and take-out options to its patrons. Owner and Nutley resident, Lou Ritacco is excited but worried. “I just hope my customers will be comfortable coming back inside. We will of course, still offer outdoor dining. Most importantly, if you don’t feel comfortable eating indoors, we do offer delivery and take out,” he said.
Guidelines for indoor dining include all staff must wear masks, eight persons maximum per a table unless from the same household or immediate family, and tables must be six-feet apart. Guests and children two years old and older must also wear masks unless there is a medical reason. Establishments must provide hand sanitizer and follow other health and safety protocols. The State recommends alternatives to paper menus such as whiteboards and electronic menus.
In addition, patrons are encouraged to call ahead for reservations. Customers are required to provide a phone number if making a reservation to help with contact tracing.