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Why some St. Louis restaurant owners can't or won't operate at full capacity

Restaurants in St. Louis and St. Louis County are now able to open without capacity limits, but they still must maintain social distancing between tables

ST. LOUIS — Restaurants in the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County are now able to open at full capacity.

County Executive Dr. Sam Page and Mayor Tishaura Jones made the joint announcement Monday morning. The loosening of restrictions in the area is called Reopen STL.

REOPEN STL HEALTH ORDERS:

  • Masks are still required to enter a restaurant
  • Masks can be removed outside, if you're fully vaccinated
  • Restaurants can now expand from 50% to full capacity while still following social distancing orders
  • The city's midnight curfew is gone
  • 6-foot social distance rule is still in play

Page said they decided to relax restrictions for a couple of reasons. The vaccine is widely available. Case counts have stabilized over the past couple of weeks and it's the guidance they are getting from public health experts.

READ MORE: Curfew, capacity restrictions lifted at St. Louis area restaurants, but mask mandate stays

It's been over a year since we've seen restaurants run at full capacity but not everyone will be able to do so.

Planter's House in Lafayette Square is currently at 50% capacity.

Because the requirement to space tables and parties 6 feet apart is still in place, owner Ted Kilgore feels like they can't bring in much more.

"Really, for us, it's not going to change much. We may be able to squeeze in a couple more seats here and there," Kilgore said.

It won't stay open too late either, just extending an extra hour to its closing time. During the week, it'll now be until 11 p.m. and on the weekends until midnight. 

Rick Lewis, owner of Grace Meat + Three in the Grove, explained he'll stay around that 50% limit, too.

"I don't know if it means a whole lot for us as far as fitting more tables with the space restrictions. It seems like a catch-22, it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense," he said.

Andy Karandzieff, owner of the century-old Crown Candy, also commented on the loosening of restrictions, calling them misleading, in a way.

"Hearing that restaurants can now operate at 100% is misleading. With the current social distancing regulations still in place, most restaurants will not be able to get back to their full capacity," Karandzieff said. "We still have to space and separate tables and manage the flow in and out to continue to maintain 6 feet. And on top of that, we will have to explain this over and over and over each day to customers coming in wondering why we are still not utilizing all of our tables."

Some restaurants will be able to expand.

Kevin Nashan is the chef and owner with Sidney Street Café. Its location has been up and running for 17 years. 

Currently, it's at 50% but expects to increase that to 70%. 

"I am grateful for this good news, I was expecting for this to happen in July, so it's an early Christmas gift. The important message is St. Louis is saying, 'Hey, we feel like it's really safe, so it tells people if you’re vaccinated, you should support everyone.'"

Balkan Treat Box owner Loryn Nalic also welcomed the news, saying it's just in time for Mother's Day brunch. 

"We have been doing dine in at 25% capacity so this is huge. Fifty people is our occupancy, but a quarter of our tables are outside, so now we have the opportunity to serve more and that’s great!" Nalic said. "We are a small place. We won’t feel comfortable packing people in like sardines, but we will do our best to keep things safe while still serving our guests.”

Mai Lee and Nudo House owner Qui Tran is bumping capacity from 50% to about 70-75%. But it won't go to the full limit because of another issue: staffing shortages.

"They've left the field and done other things," Tran said of previous hospitality industry employees. 

The other restaurant owners said the same, finding it almost impossible to hire.

Lewis said more places are hiring, which means more options, and unemployment benefits can also add to the hiring troubles.

Owner Lisa LaRuffa with Farotto's Pizza and Pasta in Rock Hill said the restaurant is staying at its capacity limit now because the lack of finding staff.

Tran also said, though, another reason to not go all out is to make people feel safe, even if his employees are fully vaccinated. 

Aaron Tietelbaum, owner of Kingside Diner and Herbie's is on the restaurant advisory panel that meets with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health on how to move forward.

Tietelbeum said nothing is changing for his restaurants. 

"We will be operating the same way because of safety and guest comfort and experience," he added. 

As the ball is rolling to possible new changes, these owners remind you to bring some patience along with your appetite.

"I do ask everyone to be patient, none of us are running as efficiently as we used to, so we are going to try the best that we can," Tran said. 

The new rules come a couple of weeks after Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt sent a letter to the St. Louis County Department of Public Health questioning the county's restrictions.

He called them the most stringent in the state and asked the health director to cite the medical research and data driving the county's shutdown orders.

The county responded and the next day that Page would soon be loosening restrictions.

Schmitt released a statement Monday saying, in part, "St. Louis County Executive Sam Page reversed course and eased many restrictions today. We will continue to monitor this situation and will vigorously defend Missourians' individual liberties in St. Louis County and across the state."

You can watch the full announcement from Monday morning in the YouTube video below.