Mother’s Day brings crowds to metro restaurants amid COVID rules rollback

The Canoe restaurant is busy on Mother's Day in Atlanta on Sunday, May 9, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

The Canoe restaurant is busy on Mother's Day in Atlanta on Sunday, May 9, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Anne Mench was more than willing to make the 35-mile journey from Fayetteville to the popular Canoe restaurant on the Chattahoochee River to enjoy brunch with her daughter.

After more than a year of enduring the COVID-19 pandemic, Mench — who grew up along the river near the restaurant — said she is ready to get back to normal.

“I am going to live my life just like before the pandemic,” she said while enjoying the warm, pleasant weather in a chair along the river next to Canoe’s large outdoor patio.

Mench was one of several dozen people who honored their Mother’s Day reservations at Canoe, more than a week after Gov. Brian Kemp scaled back restrictions that required restaurants to practice social distancing and for their workers to wear masks. Kemp’s executive order also relaxed safety guidelines for gyms, barbershops, movie theaters and other businesses.

The executive order has been criticized by public health experts who say it’s too early to ease restrictions and that new COVID-19 variants could take hold despite a growing vaccination campaign.

Signs of life returning to normal were also apparent at The Battery Atlanta in Cobb County, where patrons strolled the streets and dined hours before the Braves were to host the Philadelphia Phillies in the evening at Truist Park. On Friday night for the start of the series, the Braves hosted a full Truist Park for the first time since October 2019.

On Sunday at The Battery complex outside the ballpark, several restaurants were hosting dozens of customers, many of whom enjoyed meals outside.

In Midtown on the sunny holiday, 10th Street between I-75 and Monroe Drive was also busy with vehicular and foot traffic. Piedmont Park, Midtown’s iconic destination point, was littered with people lounging on blankets in the sunshine and under the trees. Unsurprisingly, a steady stream of people were entering and leaving the Beltline’s Eastside Trail on Monroe Drive.

Vince Palermo, Canoe’s general manager, said starting Monday, masks will become voluntary for staff and customers. The restaurant’s indoor and outdoor dining areas were full of people — some wearing masks — eager to treat their mothers to brunch this year.

Palermo said it’s “very rewarding” to be able to serve customers on Mother’s Day since the restaurant was unable to honor the tradition in 2020.

“We’re excited to be here and happy to welcome back old friends,” he said.

The bulk of Mother’s Day customers made their 2021 reservations last year when the restaurant was closed to in-person dining due to the pandemic. Palmero said he expects those same customers will make reservations for Mother’s Day 2022.

Canoe, like other businesses, are grappling with a dilemma borne out of the COVID-19 pandemic: managing operations with a reduced staff. Typically, Palermo said he would like to have about 125 people on staff, but he’s currently running the restaurant with about 20% fewer employees.

The restaurant is doing what it can to recruit employees but faces stiff competition from other eateries in the same position.

“Everybody is fishing from the same pond,” he said.

In between posing for pictures with her grandchildren and talking with her adult children, Chamblee resident and Canoe customer Moon Nguyen was all smiles while she and her family members waited for their tables to become available. It was her first time eating at the restaurant.

The Nguyen family poses for photographs while waiting for a table at The Canoe restaurant on Mother's Day on Sunday, May 9, 2021. (Photo: Steve Schaefer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

“It’s very nice,” she said of the outdoor grounds. “I love this place.”

While she is confident with going about her daily life, Nguyen said she will continue to wear a mask and practice social distancing and hopes others will do the same.

“You have to be careful,” she said. “You have to be safe for yourself and for the community.”