By Crystal Harrell
For nearly three months, many local restaurants and bars were limited to only take-out service or closed altogether under a statewide shutdown to curve the spread of the coronavirus. With many restrictions easing across the country, businesses are able to reopen under new health guidelines to promote social distancing requirements.
The Hood Bar and Pizza is one of the desert establishments that has initiated a number of safety and health protocols upon reopening. The venue has a stricter sanitation regimen—cleaning the bar each night and then again each morning prior to opening. The Hood has modified their hours to accommodate this cleaning routine, and are using plastic and disposable glassware, silverware, and plates whenever possible.
“The customers seem to have noticed the change in the cleaning protocols, though comments are generally favorable. Not all guests are in favor of us using plastic cups, plates or silverware, but we offer them the option whenever possible. We try our best to accommodate, however, our first choice would be using all disposable glassware, plates, and silverware,” said Hood owner Brad Guth.
Even though music has been a prevalent part of the popular desert bar’s night scene, there are currently no plans to bring back live entertainment anytime soon to try to discourage large gatherings or crowds. During business hours, patrons are encouraged to go outside to the back patio, and there are currently plans to re-pave this area to make it safer for a regular occupancy of people.
“The county of Riverside has discouraged inside entertainment in the way of singing or dancing, and to this point, we are complying. The atmosphere is certainly different. I hope that current guests are enjoying a venue where they can talk and communicate and be somewhat ‘normal,’ whatever that means today…..With that said, there are also many guests who want everything to return immediately to the way it was before and for us, with good conscience, we cannot do that. The obligation is to try and protect ourselves, the staff, and the guests from any possible health issues,” stated Guth.
Guth respectfully acknowledges that not all businesses are operating following the same guide lines, however, he believes it is in the best interest of The Hood to be responsible in the best way that he sees fit. Even though music showcases and live performances are one of the trademarks of the establishment, a full lineup of entertainment would encourage people to gather and congregate, jeopardizing the safety of patrons and compromising the social distancing guidelines. The Hood instead opts to maintain those safety measures and require face masks for entry, as the staff wears face masks as a sign of respect to guests and it is preferred that guests would return the favor.
“There are a number of businesses that have opened and already closed all around us in this valley and that is unfortunate. We have had a few evenings since our re-opening that became uncontrollable which is understandable because people just want to feel free and return to normal. But we took steps to either discontinue service or close even earlier than we already do. It was not a popular choice but a choice we felt most comfortable with,” explained Guth.
With the opening of restaurants, there have been cases of COVID-19 detected among the employees of certain establishments, including Neil’s Lounge, LG’s Prime Steakhouse, and Stuft Pizza.
After a kitchen employee tested positive at Stuft Pizza, they remained out of the building and has since then been in isolation. The source of the virus appears to have come from outside the restaurant and the main priority of the business was to keep isolated and avoid a spread to the employees and customers.
“We felt the highest risk was with our staff since the cooks work in a tighter environment in the kitchen. While cooking the combination of proximity and hours they work side by side led us to wanting our staff to get tested and be sure that we didn’t have a bigger problem. We closed completely to err on the side of caution. After over a week of testing results, we were very encouraged that we did not see any other related positive tests. We feel like we learned a lot in this new challenge and we feel it proved that our precautions are working,” shared Stuft Pizza owner John Bertram.
The reality of the situation remains that numerous businesses have suffered financially due to being under lockdown for so long during the COVID-19 pandemic. While some businesses and bars have been able to open like the Desert Fox, other have not been so lucky.
“I am very fortunate to have the support of the community and to be able to continue serving the Coachella Valley. Some of my regulars have returned and others have not due to the financial strain of the situation, but it is something that we must work through together,” stated Desert Fox owner Mark Green.
It is very important to note that while supporting local businesses are essential for the Coachella Valley economy, it is just as pivotal to practice good hygiene and mindfulness while going out to dine in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.