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Concerned customers, crowd limits, employee safety: Some restaurants to stay closed as St. Louis area allows reopening

St. Louis and St. Louis County begin Phase 1 of their reopening on Monday, but many business owners are opting out.

UNIVERSITY CITY, Mo. — At Salt & Smoke, there are signs in the window and a table out front that allow the smokehouse to stay open for curbside pickup during restaurant closures.

"We are also very fortunate the barbecue translates to carry out and delivery extremely well," restaurant co-owner Tom Schmidt said. "We have been so wonderfully supported during these last eight or nine weeks that we are in a spot where we can continue doing this business model for a while without having to change."

Schmidt said the curbside success is one of the reasons they won't open their dining room Monday. He said they don't want to jeopardize the takeout revenue stream in favor of limited indoor seating.

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"I became concerned about that because customers were telling us," Schmidt said. "We have heard a lot from people that are really concerned about ordering carryout from restaurants that do have the dining rooms open because there is an inherent extra risk in that."

Directly across Delmar Boulevard, Blueberry Hill's marquee no longer lists the bands coming soon, but instead inspirational messages cycle through for any eyes aimed upwards during this long intermission.

"Just financially, it's hard to get the good bands to come in if they are only playing for 1/4 the people they normally would," owner Joe Edwards said.

Edwards said the music venue will likely open for food and drink sales in early June, at the suggestion of his staff. 

When they do reopen, customers will see new merchandise, t-shirts promoting physical distancing and a greeting Edwards calls the "the elbow hello."

"I think it is important to look at the bright side of things and sometimes the humorous side," Edwards said.

Schmidt said the decision to keep the dining room closed also has the backing of his staff.

"They are universally thrilled. I have not heard from one employee that is eager for us to open our dining rooms. They really appreciate us not doing that right now," Schmidt said. 

Schmidt said Salt & Smoke usually has about 400-plus employees during the busy summer season. This year, the expected to employ as many as 550 people with the addition of their upcoming Ballpark Village location.

Currently, Schmidt said they have a hundred employees still working.

He said they now look forward to a day when they can reopen — safely — and with enough people inside to justify a full staff.

"The economics do not work out until we can really do this on a full scale," Schmidt said.

Contact reporter Sara Machi on Facebook and Twitter.

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