The bar at O’Connor’s is laid out to maximize social distancing.

The bar at O’Connor’s is laid out to maximize social distancing.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


DDA launches ‘Foodie February’ to help support local eateries

Downtown restaurants welcome the return of indoor dining

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published February 10, 2021

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ROCHESTER — Michigan restaurants and bars have once again reopened for indoor dining, bringing much welcome life — and business — to local eateries.

Dimitry Goyfman, the general manager and owner of O’Connor’s Public House in downtown Rochester, said COVID-19 has delivered “a pretty big blow” to the restaurant sector.  

“It’s been a tough time,” he said. “Just for comparison, in the months we were closed down (for in-person), in a whole month, we would do sales that we would normally do in a week.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state have shut down indoor dining twice in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The first closure — which took effect last March — lasted over 11 weeks for most eating establishments. Those in the Upper Peninsula and Traverse City regions were allowed to reopen at 50% capacity in May, but the remainder of Michigan’s restaurants and bars could not open until June 8.

During the first indoor dining ban, Goyfman was able to pivot by offering carryout at O’Connor’s to try to keep as many people employed as he could.

“That helped us cover the payroll,” he said. “We probably had more people working than we needed, but we were just trying to make sure our people were doing something.”

In November, the state issued its second indoor dining ban, which ended up lasting over 10 weeks. After the second shutdown, Goyfman said, many of the restaurant’s longtime employees opted to leave the food industry altogether, but he was able to retain a core staff to offer carryout and outdoor dining services.

“We’ve been coming into an empty building for months — it’s kind of depressing,” he said.

Michigan lifted its second indoor dining ban Feb. 1 with an order that is expected to last three weeks, through Feb. 21.

But it’s not exactly business as usual for restaurateurs.

Dining establishments are now required to follow a long list of state restrictions — like limiting their capacity to 25%, spacing tables 6 feet apart with six people or fewer, closing by 10 p.m., and disinfecting and cleaning more frequently, to name a few. Restaurants are also charged with collecting names and phone numbers of diners as part of COVID-19 contact tracing protocol and making sure those who dine indoors wear masks — which state officials said should only be removed to eat or drink.

“As far as the restrictions, as of now, I think a lot of people are saying, ‘well, 25% (capacity), that’s terrible,’ but in reality, as long as it doesn’t last for three months, I think it’s a good way for us to open up, because we do have enough staff for that. If we were at 50% or 100% capacity, it would be really hard because we just wouldn’t have enough people to make it happen,” Goyfman said. “With the current restrictions — for a little while — it helps us to not be overwhelmed and allows us to train the new people we hire efficiently.”

Kristi Trevarrow, the executive director of the Rochester Downtown Development Authority, said the past several months have undoubtedly been challenging for all of the downtown businesses — especially the restaurants. In an effort to help boost sales for local eateries this month, the Rochester DDA is hosting its first Foodie February.

“Foodie February allows our community to support our restaurants and get rewarded in the process,” she said.

Throughout the month of February, those who dine in or carry out from any downtown Rochester restaurant can save their receipts for a chance to win restaurant gift cards and “Love Local Rochester” merchandise each week.

“It’s really easy to enter,” DDA Events Coordinator Jenna O’Dell said. “You could just stop by to get your morning coffee and that would count for an entry.”

Receipts can be brought to the Downtown Collaboration Studio, 431 S. Main St., through Feb. 28. Each receipt will receive one entry, eligible for both the weekly and grand prize drawings. Three grand prize winners — of a $500, $250 or $100 dining package — will be announced and contacted on Tuesday, March 2.
Patrons who aren’t quite ready to dine indoors can still enjoy a meal outside in downtown Rochester or order carryout to qualify for an entry, O’Dell noted.

“Everyone is really making it work with the spaces they have and the staff that they have,” she said.

Foodie February is presented by Love Local Rochester and the Rochester DDA. For more information about Foodie February, contact the Rochester DDA at (248) 656-0060 or visit downtownrochestermi.com.

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