‘I’m so excited to sit down and have a meal’ — Utah restaurants open to eager diners

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alex Olmos and Angelic Quintana dine inside Siegfried's Delicatessen, which is now open for indoor dining, Friday, May 1, 2020

Angelic Quintana and Alex Olmos were walking in downtown Salt Lake City on Friday and spied something they hadn’t seen for many weeks: Diners eating inside a restaurant.

Bonus that it was at Siegfried’s Delicatessen, one of their favorite lunch spots.

“I’m so excited to sit down and have a meal,” Quintana said. “I’ve missed that.”

The German deli at 20 W. 200 South was one of many Utah eateries that opened on the first day that dine-in service was reinstated by state and local state health officials.

The state officially moved from its previous red or “high risk” COVID-19 level to orange or “moderate,” a level that allows restaurants — as well as bars, gyms, salons and entertainment sites — to reopen “with extreme precaution,” according to the Utah Leads Together 2.0 Plan.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Alex Olmos and Angelic Quintana dine inside Siegfried's Delicatessen, which is now open for indoor dining, Friday May 1, 2020

To serve customers, restaurants and bars must follow strict guidelines such as removing tables so that parties sit 6 feet apart; requiring employees to wear masks and gloves; and carefully monitoring the health of workers.

Siegfried’s owner Daiva Stankyavichyus has been serving takeout for the past month — since the state shut down dine-in service to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. But she wanted to be open Friday for those who live and work downtown.

“We don’t know how many people we are going to get,” she said, noting that on any other Friday, the restaurant — a Salt Lake City fixture since 1971 — would have had a bustling lunchtime crowd.

“We used to seat about 80 people,” she said, “right now, we’re down to about 30."

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Chairs and tables are spaced out at Siegfried's Delicatessen for social distancing as it opens for indoor dining, Friday, May 1, 2020

Stankyavichyus and her staff were wearing the required masks and gloves — and keeping 6 feet apart behind the counter and the register. Whenever a diner would leave, one of the employees would rush to remove the dirty dishes and spray the table or wood counter by the window with disinfectant.

For the most part, customers seemed to follow the social distancing rules, too. They stood on the floor decals that kept them 6 feet apart. Several came in wearing masks and took their food to go. Takeout and delivery, according to health officials, are still the preferred dining methods.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gohar Khachajryan wipes down the tables with disinfectant between customers at Siegfried's Delicatessen, which is now open for indoor dining, Friday, May 1, 2020

Others, like Quintana and Olmos, were happy to sit at a table for a leisurely meal.

“We live downtown, and it’s nice to see a little life," Olmos said. "I’m an extrovert, a bit of a social butterfly, so I’ve missed social interactions.”

Both said they felt safe dining inside the restaurant.

“They’ve done a good job spreading people out, and when it’s warmer, people can sit outside," Quintana said. “I’m already an avid hand washer, so I think we can do this and still be safe.”

El Chihuahua in Holladay opened Friday as well.

General manager Stephanie Ellis said the decision was based mostly on one thing — the demand for the Death Star — the restaurant’s boozy signature cocktail.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lucy Walker thoroughly cleans a table at El Chihuahua Mexican restaurant in Holladay as it opens with limited dining on Friday, May 1, 2020.

“A lot my customers have been asking for it,” she said.

The restaurant, which will continue offering curbside pickup, has been selling the nonalcoholic version of the giant drink during the shutdown. But without the vodka, Everclear and rum, she said, it’s just not the same for guests.

“We’re going to be open our regular hours,” Ellis said, “and see how it goes.”

But based on the outpouring of support in recent weeks, she suspects loyal customers won’t mind the spacing restrictions.

“We were overwhelmed and shocked," she said, "at the amount of takeout and extra tips we’ve had.”

Not every Utah restaurant opened for sit-down service Friday. Some restaurants say it’s not financially feasible to open with limited seating and staff. Others will continue to offer takeout and delivery for a few more weeks or longer until they feel more confident that the coronavirus has lessened.

For that reason, it’s wise to call restaurants, check their websites or look on social media pages before leaving home to get a meal.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) El Chihuahua Mexican restaurant owner Victor Quiñones talks about the changes made as the restaurant opens with limited dining on Friday, May 1, 2020.