Dino’s Greek and Italian Grill

Sandy and Ed Daehne, left, and Steve and Barb Moore were among  the first dine-in customers at Dino’s Greek and Italian Grill May 11.

This week, hungry folks around the West Valley heard this for the first time in more than a month:

“Please follow me to your table.”

Though takeout and delivery was permitted, Gov. Doug Ducey banned eating in restaurants in mid-March. Last week, Ducey announced people could begin eating in restaurants, cafes and coffee shops again as of Monday, May 11. 

Dino’s Greek and Italian Grill, Tailgaters Sports Bar and Old Pueblo Cafe were among those who opened for lunch May 11— all reported steady business. 

Bella Luna and Sal’s Tuscan Grill opened for dinner but not all West Valley restaurants put customers May 11. Saddle Mountain Brewery started seating people May 12. Cracker Barrell is waiting until Friday, May 15.

Oregano’s in Goodyear continues to be open for takeout and delivery but  is waiting until Monday, May 18, to allow customers to dine at the restaura. Dominic Gamarano, Oregano’s general manager, said he is taking his time to reduce seating by a quarter of capacity.

He said he also needed to call back some staff he furloughed and train them on the new restrictions.

Peter Mahoney spent the weekend prepping his three Downtown Litchfield Park restaurants: Park Cafe, Old Pueblo Cafe and Papa Paul’s Brick Oven Pizza & Pasta. He said he and his crew had extra cleaning, “as we have been doing a lot of construction during the hiatus.”

Sam Billelo, owner of Bella Luna and Sal’s Tuscan Grill, has been a mainstay in the West Valley restaurant scene for decades.

He has been through good times and bad, recessions and the recent stretch of record-low unemployment. Nothing prepared him for the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m just taking it day by day,” he said, trying not to get too eager about Ducey’s relaxed restrictions.

With family across the county, including some “hot spot” areas, he had mixed feelings about the economy reopening.

“It should be OK,” Billelo said. “But just like everybody else, there’s that doubt in your head—‘Is this going to be OK?’

“But I think Arizona’s going to be OK as long as everyone follows the rules.”

Billelo said he will strictly enforce social distancing by blocking off every other table—even if “it’s sort of strange.

“We’re just going to take the safe road and do what we think is best.”

He said his staff will continue wearing masks and gloves.

Even though his restaurants remained open for takeout and delivery, like others Billelo was forced to deeply cut into his staff, furloughing nearly two-thirds of his employees.

Last week, he called several of them with this question: “Are you ready?”

Not all West Valley patrons were ready to eat out, just yet.

Sharply differing opinions on the subject were illustrated by a May 11 West Valley View Facebook poll, which asked if restaurants and retail shops reopening for in-person service is: about right; too early; or not enough — open up everything.

Only two went with the “about right” option. Twenty-one wanted “open up everything.” Twenty-eight said “too soon.”

Dino’s noted on a Facebook post that it will follow social distancing: “We will be offering limited seating in both the bar and dining area and enforcing social distancing of at least 6 feet between parties. For the safety of our staff and customers, we will be implementing comprehensive sanitation protocols and adhering to CDC guidelines.”

That would get a nod of approval from Goodyear Mayor Georgia Lord.

While cautiously optimistic about the loosened restrictions on shops and restaurants, Lord added, “It will be important for all of us to be mindful of the need to continue to abide by the physical distancing standards that are in place.”

Avondale Mayor Kenneth Weise used the same “cautiously optimistic” term.

“The past few weeks have been a strain on the state’s economy,” Weise said. “I know many of our Avondale businesses are eager for the opportunity to reopen, thoughtfully and safely.”

Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck is normally a “shop local” cheerleader, but his tone is more subdued these days: “I encourage our residents to continue supporting our local businesses if they feel safe to do so,” he said.

Many would agree on Meck’s praise of locals who managed to stay open during the pandemic.

“Thank you to our local retail businesses and restaurants for your innovation in finding alternative ways to still conduct business during the stay-home order,” Meck said. “I’m pleased they are able to gradually reopen by following the CDC guidelines.”