Starting today, Arthur Mac’s Tap & Snack, a popular pizza restaurant and beer garden in the Longfellow neighborhood of North Oakland, is putting on-site dining service on hold for the foreseeable future “to proactively mitigate transmission of the coronavirus.” The restaurant owners, Farm League Restaurant Group, announced they will suspend dine-in service “until the coronavirus outbreak is contained, or we have accurate information and proper testing capabilities locally.”
Yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the outbreak of the coronavirus disease a pandemic, and both federal and local officials are now recommending people limit attendance at large gatherings and practice social distancing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Keeping abreast of these updates and recommendations, Farm League decided Arthur Mac’s is the exact type of venue experts are warning people to avoid, according to Farm League partner Joel DiGiorgio.
“Arthur Mac’s is very high volume and it’s a communal setting,” DiGiorgio said. “People are close together eating finger foods. People are licking their fingers, grabbing communal napkins, shakers, condiments and all those different things.”
The restaurant caters largely to young families with its accessible menu of pizza, chicken wings, french fries, ice cream cones and beer. Its outdoor beer garden is also a large draw, with plenty of picnic tables and booths, its own play zone and arcade. But the restaurant group realized its family-friendly environment could be an issue with the growing coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re learning that kids might not show symptoms, but they’re vectors adding to transmission without even knowing it,” DiGiorgio said. Initially, the restaurant removed toys from its kids’ area, then closed the zone completely before finally deciding to close the entire outdoor area — which is where most of its seating is located. It also decided to close its three public bathrooms.
“We have to be realistic about what we’re dealing with,” DiGiorgio said. “We don’t feel comfortable providing an environment that the experts are saying that we need to stay away from.”
Arthur Mac’s will continue to operate during its regular hours, but for take-out and delivery through Caviar. Moving forward, customers who come in for carry-out will not be able to use bare fingers to add tips or sign the POS screens. Instead, employees will ask for tip amounts they’d like to add to their total, or customers may use a latex glove to sign the touchscreen.
On Tuesday, the restaurant sent a letter to its entire staff (a group of about 20, according to DiGiorgio) outlining the measures the restaurant is taking to prevent exposure to the coronavirus, including new cleaning requirements and asking sick employees to stay home. DiGiorgio said the owners do not plan to let go of any staff, and will try to accommodate those who may struggle financially due to the service changes. While the restaurant hopes to bring back dine-in service in the next week or two, DiGiorgio said Arthur Mac’s is prepared for a longer duration. It has provided staff with paperwork to apply for unemployment insurance through the state should workers lose their jobs or have hours reduced due to COVID-19.
Farm League is also looking into the possibility of “call-in delivery,” so Arthur Mac’s employees could deliver food (in addition to delivery offered by third-party services), with 100% of tips going to the delivery person. The restaurant will also add extra training sessions for staff. For example, front of house workers may learn skills, like preparing or cooking food, to make it sustainable to keep them on board. In addition, DiGiorgio said Arthur Mac’s will add extra shifts for employees to deep clean the kitchen and power wash the closed garden.
“We’ll be creative on how much labor we have,” he said. We’ll be running a tight ship, obviously.”
Arthur Mac’s will be Farm League’s guinea pig to see how things go with the new model, but Farm League may eventually make changes at its other restaurants, including East Bay Spice Company in Berkeley. DiGiorgio said he and his partners are prepared to take a loss on potential revenue with the change, but admits they’re in a “unique position”: “We’re in a good financial position, most restaurants are not.”
Many restaurants across the Bay Area are seeing a drop in business due to coronavirus fears, most notably and drastically in San Francisco and Oakland Chinatowns, where restaurants were reporting 50% sales decreases in early February before any cases of coronavirus were even reported in the Bay Area. In the last two weeks, two Oakland Chinatown stalwarts Peony and Buffet Fortuna have closed until further notice due to a dearth of business.
But business has been going extremely well at Arthur Mac’s. DiGiorgio said sales have gone up significantly year to date, with last week being one of the restaurant’s better periods.
According to DiGiorgio, Arthur Mac’s regular customers — many of whom are in a younger demographic — may have a “false sense of security” of not being susceptible to COVID-19 based on their age and because the Arthur Mac’s dining area is open and outdoors. “When people feel sunshine on their face, they feel safer,” DiGiorgio posited.
Still, he said, the owners felt the need to be proactive about mitigating the coronavirus outbreak, and hope their decision inspires other businesses to consider doing something similar. (This morning, Nosh learned Monster Pho, which has locations in Oakland and Emeryville, will switch to take-out and delivery service only, and St. George Spirits in Alameda has decided to temporarily close its tasting room to the public as a precautionary measure.)
“We realized we’d rather be overreacting than regret underreacting,” DiGiorgio said. “If we just stand up and do it and announce that we’re doing it, others will follow.”