Local residents Neil and Ruth Barnes enjoy a piece of homemade pie at Kelcy's Restaurant. The Barneses said they were happy to see the restaurant open again.

Local restaurants are beginning to welcome diners inside at 50 percent capacity, and the community is eating it up.

Following Gov. Gavin Newsom's order to stay in place in late March, restaurant owners were forced to close their eateries to inside diners and find new ways to serve their customers via curbside or takeout only. 

On May 12, the Newsom loosened restrictions for restaurants and provided a 12-page document to serve as new guidelines for reopening. 

However, meeting the new guidelines would come at a cost at a time when many restaurant owners were struggling to keep their head above water after months of quarantine and limited revenues.

"The plexiglass, the contactless sanitizer stations we've ordered, the disposable menus, the masks and gloves for the employees, the time spent on employee training, the additional staff needed each shift because of the time consuming new requirements, it all adds up," said Virginia Sheridan, co-owner of Kelcy's Restaurant along with her husband, Bill Lee.

Sheridan estimated the additional costs at about $1,500.

Asked how the restaurant has changed since reopening, Sheridan said all her servers are now wearing masks or face shields and they have placed hand sanitizer for their customers' use at the front and back entrances. In addition, she and Lee have installed plexiglass shields at the register and back hallway.

"We now seat our customers, rather than customers seating themselves, as we need to make sure that their table has been not just cleaned, but sanitized between each group of customers. All condiments are brought to the table on request, and sanitized after each use," Sheridan said.

Asked how she feels about having to follow these regulations, Sheridan said, "Customer and employee health and safety is our number one priority. We appreciate the fact that our customers have been understanding and supportive of the changes we have made."

Even though the restaurant had to make a lot of changes to reopen, Sheridan said she is just happy to see her customers again ... ones she has missed a great deal during the pandemic.

"People are becoming more comfortable eating out. And of course, we still have the full menu available for takeout, and many people are still ordering to go," Sheridan said.

Kelcy's has also extended its hours to Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Alisha Nelson, hostess and server for Henry's Cafe, said her restaurant is practicing social distancing and requiring all servers to be gloved and masked.

"Of course, you can't require your customers to wear masks for obvious reasons," said Nelson.

Kristi Skinner of Big Papa's Steakhouse said, above all else, she missed her patrons and welcomes them to dine inside the restaurant again.

"Is nice to see them all gather together and hug each other, just like they used to," said Skinner, adding, "We appreciate the people coming in and supporting us."

Big Papa's has also changed its hours to Sunday through Thursday from noon to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from noon to 10 p.m.

In addition to face masks, providing disposable menus and hand sanitizer, new guidelines include no shared food condiments such as salt and pepper shakers, no shared bread baskets, salad bars or buffets.

No tableside food preparation and presentation is allowed such as food item selection carts.

No after-meal mints, candies, snacks, or toothpicks can be set out for customers, but they may be provided individually with the check.

"I think it's great," said Corey Costelloe, economic development coordinator for the city of Tehachapi. "You drive around, and everyone has 'help wanted' signs in the windows. I think that is really good news, that they are hiring, but some of them haven't come back at 100 percent yet because they are having issues getting people to come back after being laid off for awhile."

According to Costelloe, he believes local restaurant owners found ways to get creative; however, he attributes the community's support for their survival.

Said Costelloe, "I think the community really stepped up. I know that I, personally, ordered more food than I normally would or should during the pandemic to help out. Now that the restaurants are opened again, a lot of people are eager to go back and see their friends again. That's a testament of two things: the way the restaurant owners ran their business and the community that is dedicated to keeping them open."

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