TRENTON, NJ -- Gov. Phil Murphy surprised restaurant owners who had been preparing for the return of indoor dining on Thursday, July 2, by announcing just four days before that indoor seating would be delayed indefinitely. 

Having spent money ordering food, retraining workers, and purchasing PPE and cleaning supplies, restaurant owners were justifiably upset when he postponed the restart. Andrea Mitchell of NBC News pressed Murphy on the subject during his appearance on Meet The Press.

Murphy said he sympathized with restaurant owners and called on the federal government to send more money to the states so that they could help restaurants.

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"Listen, we have nothing but sympathy for them. Believe me. It's why we need direct federal cash assistance to states so that we can help those restaurants and small businesses out," Murphy said. "But the choice is either we open inside or (based on the data that we saw, and the lethality of this virus inside), we lose people."

"When you combine indoors, lack of ventilation, sedentary, close proximity. And by definition you have to take your mask off to eat, those are bad facts," Murphy added. "We're just not there yet. We'll get there, I hope. But we're not ready for it."

The governor has come under harsh criticism from the New Jersey Restaurant and Hospitality Association, which issued a statement, after Murphy's reversal, that said his decision "will cause even more restaurants to fail."

In a phone interview with TAPinto Scotch Plains Fanwood last week, CEO Marilou Halvorsen said restaurateurs were excited about reopening... and then their hopes were crushed.

"Adding insult to injury, they were spending money they didn't have on inventory," Halvorsen said. "About 40-45% of restaurants don’t have access to outdoor dining. An estimated 20-23% of independent restaurants closed before June. With this false start, it will go up."

"He is acting based on what he has seen (at some bars and restaurants that were not enforcing social distancing)," she said. "Other things can reopen. Casinos can reopen. People sit close to each other in churches and synagogues.  The only industry not being brought along is the restaurant industry." 

Halverson said members of her association have been calling her because they are "frustrated and angry at the governor, and angry about the establishments that have not been following guidelines."

"We are concerned about the pandemic and saving lives, but this is creating tremendous strains on people who are trying to put food on their table for their families," Halverson said. "I’m all for slow and responsible reopening. We got to see this industry come along. We don’t take all the cars off the road when people don't obey traffic laws."

The restaurant association chief says that she has a plan of how to reopen.

"We have offered to have something implemented where you have to be seated to eat and drink with the people you came with," Halverson said.  "The 'indefinite' timeframe is extremely concerning.  What data is he looking at?   In the beginning it was ICU beds so not to overrun hospitals.   It was a smart move.   Now it is based on what is happening in other states.  There has to be a consistency."

"The casinos are open.   We are not happy about it. People are sitting there, touching things," Halverson said. "It doesn’t make sense how some things open, and others not. The restaurant industry is the state’s largest private sector employer. Of 350,000 restaurant employees in the state, 85% lost jobs and only 45% are being brought back."

Walter Kurilew of KC’s Korner on Oak Tree Avenue in South Plainfield was among those who looked forward to the return of indoor dining. His establishment is among the 55% to 60% of restaurants that opened for outside dining.  With the drawbacks to outside dining of limited seating and weather concerns, Kurilew says in anticipation of the re-open of indoor dining, he installed a state-of-the art air purification system equipped with advanced bipolar ionization technology.

“I want customers to feel comfortable,” Kurilew said.  “I am taking every precaution to keep everyone safe, just as if it was my own family coming in here, which they often do.”

Kurilew says the purification technology that is now continuously cleaning the air of KC’s produces a natural bio-climate rich with positive and negative ions.  Bipolar technology releases charged atoms so there are no harmful chemicals, ozone or ultra-violet light.  The atoms attach to harmful substances like bacteria, allergens, mold, and viruses, and deactivates these substances.  Kurilew says he researched extensively to find the best possible system on the market and found the one that has been proven effective against SARS, norovirus and several strains of influenza.  

“The air purification system creates a healthy environment for the entire building so customers can feel safe,” Kurilew said.  “I want customers to feel comfortable, so I’m doing everything I can to make this environment as pure and healthy as possible.”