By Jarret Liotta
UPDATE With the reopening of restaurants allowed beginning Wednesday, a number of Westport restaurant owners said they are ready.
Binicio Lanos (l) and his brother Sergio, co-owners of Arezzo, which will soon open its large patio on the Saugatuck River for outdoor dining. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com
But they still need the town’s authorization approved by various departments to begin serving. No application had been approved by end of business today, according to town officials.
“Hopefully everybody can come out and support us,” said Binicio Lanos, co-owner of Arezzo at the corner of Riverside Avenue and the Post Road, which is preparing to open its large patio overlooking the river.
“It’s feeling great,” he said, noting the capacity for the patio is regularly 150 patrons, plus they have additional qualifying space from inside with movable glass partitions.
“I’m so happy,” said his brother and co-owner, Sergio Lanos, noting it’s been two months of just curbside and takeout.
“To be shut is very depressing,” said Graziano Ricci, chef at Romanacci Pizza Bar on Railroad Place.
He and his family have been preparing an outdoor area that makes use of three parking spaces on the street that will be suspended in order to accommodate dining.
“It could be beautiful,” he said of the potential to close Railroad Place entirely to traffic. “It could be like New York.”
Graziano Ricci, chef of Romanacci Pizza Bar on Railroad Place, has been reviewing the state guidelines for reopening for outdoor dining. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Jarret Liotta for WestportNow.com
Meanwhile, Ricci said the trappings of their customer-service business continue to be broadly impeded by concerns and evolving customs related to the Coronavirus.
“I used to shake hands, give a kiss (and) now it’s completely changed,” he said, noting the new normal is “very weird.”
Still, this first-phase opening provides some light at the end of the tunnel for him, though not everyone will have the opportunity to bask in that new light until further restrictions are lifted.
“It’s hard for me,” said Mike Zhao, owner of Tengda of Westport. “My patio is a little different because the roof is so low (and) it’s very small.”
Thus, he said, he is prohibited from taking advantage of the new order.
Having had to suspend half his staff, Zhao is working hard to maintain, thanks to a loyal customer base still patronizing this longtime local business owner.
“My customers are very supportive,” he said. “I’m local, they know me, I live here (and) they support me.”
But unfortunately, he said, his sense is that it’s going to be some time before people are comfortable at all with actual in-house dining anywhere, even with numerous precautions he and others are—and will be—taking when the time comes.
“Everybody’s freaking out right now,” he said.
“I don’t think they’re ready,” he said. “I don’t think they’ll feel comfortable.”
At today’s electronic meeting of Westport’s reopen advisory group, Matthew Mandell, executive director of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and liaison to restaurant owners, said: “They are rarin’ to go.”
He said “20 concepts to reopen” had been received by town officials as of Monday.
“There may be too much enthusiasm,” Mandell said, explaining that the Planning and Zoning staff, which handles the restaurant applications, is still working on the process.
“We want to do it right,” he said. “Ultimately this is about confidence.”