With about 30 minutes left before business could really kick off, McKena Thomas was excited.
The general manager of Jeffrey Adams, the two-story restaurant nestled at the corner of Fourth and Marshall streets, and her staff had just finished prep for a different serving experience and were readying for foot traffic on Saturday.
The restaurant was one of a few that took part in the city’s trial run for street dining downtown. Two sections of Fourth Street, between Marshall and Trade, were blocked off for five hours so restaurants to set up tables on the pavement.
Businesses in that stretch welcomed the most customers they’d seen since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March, all with the added benefit of more space and the open air.
“We’re back to work, and we’re excited for the street seating because we’re going to be close to our sales before,” Thomas said. “Everybody’s going to go home with some money in their pocket.”
The state has been in Phase 2 of its reopening plan for more than two months now. That restricts restaurants to 50 percent of their normal capacity, among many other guidelines. Before that, the first phase shut down dining rooms and allowed only delivery and takeout orders.
Thomas said Jeffrey Adams didn’t stay open during Phase 1. As a more upscale setting, takeout isn’t really in the restaurant’s wheelhouse. She said she had to lay off 20 staffers. But since restrictions have loosened, she’s been able to rehire everyone who wanted to return.
This event, dubbed “The Streatery,” gave Jeffrey Adams roughly 30 tables to work with. Normally on the weekend, they have about 20. That drops back to around 10 during weekdays, Thomas said. But she was already feeling hopeful about the impact the night could have, saying tables were already locked up for a two-hour stretch of reservations.
“We did this in less than 30 minutes,” she said, pointing around at the setup. “A good night for me is everybody leaving happy and full.”
Down the way, on the Trade Street side, King’s Crab Shack and Oyster Bar was hopping. Their 14 outdoor tables stayed full, a result Reginald Hall thought the restaurant could see if everything went right.
Hall, the kitchen manager, said that King’s Crab Shack survived the crunch of the pandemic thanks to a loyal group of regulars.
“‘We’re so happy we can just get out of the house and come and get some crab legs,’” Hall said, imitating an appreciative patron. “So we kind of get a kick out of it, too.
“We’re enjoying it as much as other people. We get to see the people that we didn’t see for a couple of months.”
Hall said his kitchen crew has gone through countless amounts of gloves and masks. He’s also instituted a strict regimen of hand washing and glove changes, using a timer that he keeps up with on his phone. It’s a rhythm everyone is used to now, Hall said.
The extra business is a nice bump, Hall said, but ideally, this is an important step to getting downtown back to its normal bustle.
“We just love the idea that we’re going to be able to come out in the street and people can just walk down, kind of like a street scene type thing,” Hall said. “Just walk by and see what other people are doing.
“I really like it, and I really hope they let us do this a lot more.”
Nearby demonstrators protesting the jail-related death of John Neville chanted alongside the dining area during a portion of the event. Shouts of support sprinkled the scene from the tables that decorated the street.