Decatur Program Manager says half of restaurants temporarily closed

This sidewalk on the Decatur Square is usually packed with patrons during a normal weeknight, but the area’s turned into a virtual ghost town during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Square Pub (foreground), beloved by many, has closed for good, but that came shortly before the virus. Bill Banks for the AJC
This sidewalk on the Decatur Square is usually packed with patrons during a normal weeknight, but the area’s turned into a virtual ghost town during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Square Pub (foreground), beloved by many, has closed for good, but that came shortly before the virus. Bill Banks for the AJC

On Wednesday April 15 the wildly popular Decatur restaurant Taqueria del Sol (it also has other metro-wide and regional locations) announced it was closing immediately for an indefinite period. A note from the company read, “With the possible peak of the virus occurring in the Metro Atlanta area next week, we want to ensure the health and safety of our staff and guests alike.”

Shirley Baylis, the city’s downtown program manager said this is a common sentiment expressed by the owners of shuttered restaurant. She estimates there’s currently a “45 to 50 percent closure” of the city’s roughly 80 restaurants (the city usually says it has about 100 restaurants, a number Baylis says is “way to high”).

Decatur’s “Open For Business” web page lists 37 restaurants doing some combination takeout, delivery and curbside service, but Baylis said that number, which is over two weeks old, is changing daily.

Employee safety is only one explanation for restaurant closure during the pandemic. Baylis said that many, particularly of the white-table cloth variety, simply aren’t geared to doing takeout or delivery. Longtime Mediterranean bistro Café Lily and breakfast and lunch restaurant Sweet Melissa’s appear closed for the pandemic’s duration.

But Baylis said that Italian restaurant no. 246 which has both been closed since the COVID-19 outbreak, is close to reopening.

“I think part of what many restaurants are going through,” Baylis said, “is that not only are they trying to get by day to day, but some are thinking hard about what the future looks like. I’ve talked to some restaurant owners who are thinking about having fewer tables to maintain spacing even after the virus.”

Some restaurants with common owners are combining resources to produce a scaled-back shared menu while also adding larger family-style portions they don’t normally offer. The Brick Store and Leon’s Full Service are offering takeout at Leon’s, while Universal Joint and Steinbeck’s are merging forces at U-Joint.

According to the National Restaurant Association 30,000 restaurants nationally have already closed permanently and that number will swell to 110,000 by next month.

Baylis says that to date only one restaurant within Decatur city limits, the Smoothie King on West Ponce de Leon Avenue, has told her they’re closing for good. But she also believes that as a national chain closure plans predates the pandemic. The Square Pub, an admired hangout particularly for after-hours restaurant folks, closed last month after 10 years in business, but that closure preceded the COVID-19’s first full tidal wave.

Baylis reports that in fact two new restaurants are planning to open in the near future: a barbecue restaurant (still unnamed) in the Old Depot District next to Kelly’s Market, and Ponko Chicken, an Asian fried chicken restaurant in the former Steel City Pops space.

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