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Supporting island restaurants amid a pandemic | Guest column

Submitted by Anna Maria de Freitas

As I listen to the rain bounce off my skylight and feel the fall chill settle in the air, I know that the days of outdoor dining for the restaurant industry is quickly coming to an end. What will the dining scene look like in the San Juan Islands this spring if restaurants are not able to increase indoor dining capacity this fall and winter? The grim reality is that many will not make it.

I own Coho Restaurant, a farm-to-fork restaurant in the heart of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. For 13 years prior to COVID-19, we had nine tables in our intimate dining room. We now have only five physically distanced tables indoors, limited to serve a maximum of five guests per table from the same household. The four outdoor tables added during summer will soon be a thing of the past.

All these limiting factors have a significant impact not only on our restaurant business but on the many suppliers that island restaurants support. This year we hired fewer team members and purchased fewer products from local farmers, cheesemakers, winemakers and distillers.

Restaurant-owners have worked tirelessly during quarantine despite being closed for 90 days. And, as with many small businesses, the stress of uncertainty has taken its toll but we’ve lived up to the challenge. Restaurants have instituted new procedures and protocols for the safety of their teams and patrons. During the height of summer, they opened their doors to the local community and visitors and have operated safely. I am proud of our hospitality industry for its hard work and diligence, and grateful to our islands for keeping the virus at bay.

In order to open up more indoor dining capacity, everyone needs to continue their vigilance of wearing masks, physically distancing and washing their hands. We know these measures help stop the spread of COVID. I am not asking this on behalf of my restaurant but on behalf of our local community and our interrelated small business web. Restaurants put 96 cents of every dollar back into the local economy. That goes to wages, farmers, and suppliers. The health and welfare and the fabric of our local economy is closely tied to the health of our restaurants.

Those of us in the hospitality industry choose this lifestyle. We work to serve and get pleasure out of what we do. Please support your island restaurants in doing what we love while keeping our community safe.