Curfews, COVID-19 prompt some Atlanta restaurants to temporarily close again

Forza Storico covered patio. Contributed by Mia Yakel

Combined ShapeCaption
Forza Storico covered patio. Contributed by Mia Yakel

Loss of business, employee safety, positive COVID-19 tests, solidarity with protesters among reasons for shutting

In late March, state-mandated orders forced Georgia restaurants to shut down dine-in service to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Numerous Atlanta restaurants that have since reopened are now temporarily shutting again or reducing hours. Operators cite multiple factors, including nightly curfews and to allow employees to participate in protests related to the death of black Minneapolis resident George Floyd while in police custody. In addition, two restaurants are closing because an employee recently tested positive for COVID-19.

On Wednesday, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms extended a citywide curfew for the fifth consecutive night. Curfews were also issued for Thursday beginning at 9 p.m. and Friday, Saturday and Sunday beginning at 8 p.m. All curfews expire at sunrise.

Antica Posta, Taqueria del Sol, Talat Market and Wahoo have all shifted their hours. Grindhouse Killer Burgers has changed hours at its Piedmont, Memorial and Decatur locations "to allow staff to peacefully protest," according to a post on the restaurant's Facebook page.

Rina, Red Phone Booth and Umi all plan to close early Thursday night. Local Three and the Vortex have announced early closures through Sunday.

Lyla Lila closed temporarily Wednesday and Thursday because of the curfews, but will reopen Friday and Saturday from 3-7 p.m.

Forza Storico announced  it will be temporarily closing voluntarily not only because of the curfew but also because an employee tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week.

The Forza Storico closure was announced Wednesday evening on the restaurant's Instagram feed: "Due to the recent curfews and having discovered a member of our staff testing positive to Covid-19 we are closing Forza Storico until conditions of safety and well-being are met. All our staff is being tested as a precaution. Thank you for your understanding and see you soon!"

An employee at Ray’s on the River also recently tested positive for the coronavirus. The restaurant announced Wednesday on Facebook that the restaurant was temporarily closing: “The safety of our guests and employees is our main priority, and we have gone above and beyond by implementing safety measures as we reopened our restaurants. Unfortunately today, we were informed that one of our employees has tested positive for COVID-19 but is asymptomatic. We are following the FDA and CDC guidelines and will be closing our restaurant until we have been able to get all of our employees tested and are able to do additional sanitation. We ask for your continued patience and support as we work to ensure the safety of our staff and guests.”

Forzo Storico co-owner Pietro Gianni said that although the restaurant is not required to close because an employee tested positive, “We decided to because we consider our employees like family.”

The restaurant has been scheduled for professional cleaning and sanitation. All employees have been notified and are being tested, along with their families, some of whom are in at-risk groups. The restaurant is also paying its employees wages during the shutdown and paying for their testing, Gianni said.

He expressed frustration at the current situation that sees many Atlanta restaurant owners trying to keep their operation afloat amid curfews and the coronavirus pandemic.

“The 6-foot social distancing, reduced seating — we are not turning a profit,” he said. “Now, bringing the curfew, it destroys us. You might as well tell us to shut down.”

Gianni also said that he wished city officials would be in better communication with local business owners. “It is the nth time we are not given a direct phone call, an email. They have our email when they want to get our taxes, our phone when they want to get a permit renewed,” he said. “I would like the authorities to be more proactive in informing any business that will suffer from a curfew. The trickle-down effect is huge,” he said, noting that the curfew has caused his restaurant to throw away food, reduce staffing and cancel or reschedule reservations.

He has similar gripes regarding lack of instruction from authorities regarding implementation of state-mandated COVID-19 guidelines for restaurants. “Guidelines, in my opinion, is not a law. It is a set of rules you are asked to follow as best you can. Since the beginning of the pandemic,” he said, “it’s all up to us finding out. We have to come up with our own way of dealing with the pandemic.”

With respect to restaurant employees testing positive for the virus, “What do restaurants specifically do?” Gianni said. “Have someone from the health department send an email or letter (saying), ‘If you have a COVID-19 case, this is how it works.’ We would love to know what the rule is. We decided to close down, but that’s not the rule. There needs to be some sort of clarification.

“We don’t know when or if we are going to reopen,” he said. “As long as these conditions apply, this doesn’t make sense.”

Forza Storico is not the first Atlanta restaurant to voluntarily close due to an employee testing positive for COVID-19. Between late March and early April, franchise owners of a Waffle House in Canton, a Chick-fil-A in McDonough and one in Marietta all closed their eateries because an employee tested positive for the coronavirus. In early May, the owners of Hattie B's in Little Five Points took the same extra precautionary step, as did Rocket Farms Restaurant group, when an employee at Little Rey, its Tex-Mex concept in Piedmont Heights, tested positive.

Atlanta-based fast-casual chain Gusto temporarily closed its new Chamblee location  because an employee tested positive for COVID-19. The company stated that it had professionally cleaned the space and had required negative tests from all of its team members prior to resuming service May 28.

Forza Storico reopened May 20 for on-premise dining after being shuttered for nearly two months due to the coronavirus pandemic. During the closure, it partnered with the Atlanta Hawks and State Farm on the Frontline Heroes initiative to feed frontline workers for Emory Healthcare. The restaurant debuted last fall in Westside Provisions District on Howell Mill Road.

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