Wallowa County is going back to work and its businesses are welcoming customers again after Gov. Kate Brown allowed 31 of Oregon’s 36 counties to enter Phase 1 of post-COVID-19 reopening. Brown made the announcement Thursday, May 14, that Phase 1 would begin for the counties — including Wallowa — the following day.
Restaurants and bars can have sit-down service as long as they maintain 6 feet of distance between parties, limit parties to a maximum of 10 people, require all employees to wear face coverings and end on-site consumption by 10 p.m.
Staff and managers at establishments interviewed shared a mix of relief the forced closures were over, satisfaction that business was getting going again and thankfulness to their patrons in the community.
Bree Gladden, at Friends Restaurant in Enterprise, said her breakfast and lunch shop on Main Street waited until Monday, May 18, to reopen.
“It was OK,” she said. “It was pretty slow to what it would be but it was better than it’s been since early March.” Gladden said that thanks to a Paycheck Protection Program loan, she’s been able to rehire her four employees.
She said she already has several reservations for this week. “I believe a lot of people are ready to get back out there,” Gladden said. As a result, she’s already added a few new items to the menu, including breakfast burritos, a barbecued pork rib basket and a barbecued smoked brisket sandwich.
La Laguna Family Mexican Restaurant in Enterprise was forced to close entirely by the state rather than attempt to do takeout only, said co-owner Angelica Zurita.
“The bills don’t stop coming when you’re shut down,” she said.
But the restaurant was able to rehire workers with a PPP loan, she said, and has been doing takeout for a couple weeks. The weekend was profitable for La Laguna, but a challenge both because of the restrictions and the building’s layout, she said.
“We can seat only six tables inside. Luckily we have outside seating, but it was so cold we had to turn people away,” Zurita said. “People took their orders as takeout. They’re really understanding. I really appreciate them.”
In Joseph, Blythe Cricket co-owners Rachel Nutter and Margaret Lamm said their establishment was also one that provided takeout service. In response to a question about customers using the outside seating, Lamm said, “They didn’t do it legally, but the sheriff and everybody used it.”
In order to comply with social distancing restrictions for indoor customers, the two women had set up a “tea party” of stuffed animals at a large table in the center of their dining area. Nutter said they were “placeholders” so they wouldn’t have to worry about separating customers in their breakfast and lunch establishment.
At the Cheyenne Café in Joseph, Kara Meyers said business has been “really good” since reopening. She said that in compliance with the Phase 1 restrictions, all her employees are wearing facemasks and tables have been rearranged so parties of indoor customers are at least 6 feet apart.
Zurita’s husband, Jose Lopez, operates the La Laguna in Joseph, which has yet to reopen. She said personal tragedies in the life of their main chef there have delayed the reopening. They hope to reopen today.
Lopez and Zurita also are owners of the Rusty Spur in Joseph, having bought it in 2018. It reopened Friday to slow business.
“But it’s better than not being opened,” Zurita said. “It’s like if you have a plant and don’t water it; it’s going to die.” Still, Zurita said she’s grateful for the support given her businesses, which support four families.
“We really appreciate the whole community,” she said. “We feel really blessed.”