The cautious reopening of Siskiyou County's eateries for in-restaurant dining after two months of coronavirus-related lockdown is both good news and a sobering challenge for Ken and Rachel Crawford, owners of The Dutchman in Montague.

The cautious reopening of Siskiyou County’s eateries for in-restaurant dining after two months of coronavirus-related lockdown is both good news and a sobering challenge for Ken and Rachel Crawford, owners of The Dutchman in Montague.

The only sit down restaurant in the small town closed its dining room after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a statewide stay-at-home order in mid-March. They offered take out for awhile but were forced to suspend operations when Ken had health problems that required surgery.

The Crawfords took over The Dutchman in September of last year and are in the midst of purchasing the building and equipment with high hopes of establishing themselves as supportive members of the community.

“The coronavirus crisis forced us to scale back business just as it was beginning to pick up,” said Ken. Because they haven’t had the business long, it was difficult for the couple to qualify for many of the assistance programs offered to small businesses. And those that they did qualify for ran out of funds before they had a chance to apply.

As a result, the Crawfords laid off their three staff members, although they hope to rehire them within the next three weeks or so.

Now that the lockdown has been lifted, Ken and Rachel are facing a bevy of new state operating restrictions.

Only disposable, digital or routinely disinfected menus are allowed and there can’t be communal salt and pepper shakers or other shared condiment containers on the tables.

That means no family-style bread baskets, buffets or salad bars. According to the state’s reopening guidelines, servers who come in close contact with customers must wear face masks.

Another new restriction is a limit on how close together restaurant tables can be. The Dutchman is operating at 50% capacity to ensure social distancing.

Health authorities believe placing tables at least six feet apart reduces the risk of one individual spreading the virus to others. But the setup also reduces how many people can be served at a time. That's expected to drag down sales.

Sparky’s Landing in Mount Shasta is also operating at 50% capacity with many new health measures in place. Employees are screened before each shift and their temperatures are taken. Everyone is wearing face coverings and patrons are being screened at the door, said manager Crystal Scarlett.

Tables are being arranged at least six feet apart and groups of 10 or more aren’t allowed for the time being. The days of eating at the bar area are over for now, and employees have been trained in extra sanitation practices, Scarlett said.

“There have been some big changes, but we are going with the flow,” said Scarlett. “We’re complying with all the new regulations ... for instance, we have no preset flatware, all the parmesan and pepper shakers in the caddies have been removed.”

While some restaurants were hit hard by the pandemic, business has been pretty much normal for Chuck Mahan, owner of Pancho and Lefkowitz in Mount Shasta. Because the restaurant is a permanent food truck with outdoor seating, Mahan wasn’t forced to close like other restaurants.

“We’ve met criteria to stay open because we have always been take-out,” said Mahan. At the height of the pandemic, Pancho’s was one of the only places to grab a bite for lunch in Mount Shasta.

The biggest trouble Mahan has faced over the past two months is finding items like beans, rice, tortillas and now, steak.

“I found some that was way too expensive and I said, ‘I just can’t do that,’” said Mahan, adding that his staff has stepped up its sanitation practices in accordance with local guidance from the Siskiyou County Health Department. All his employees are now wearing masks.

And although he hasn’t purchased decals or put tape down on the concrete to encourage social distancing, Mahan said he’s noticed that people give each other space in line without having to be reminded.

Financial challenges during the lockdown – when many eateries abruptly skidded from full-serve to only take-away meals – prompted Kevin Flynn, owner of Pipeline Craft Taps and Kitchen in Mount Shasta to get creative. He developed “take and bake” and “grab and grill” options that sold well when takeout was the only option.

Flynn didn’t know when designing his restaurant last year – it had only been open a few months before the pandemic hit – that the roll-up garage door-style windows opening onto Mt. Shasta Blvd. would be so convenient for pick-up orders.

As the pandemic ground the restaurant’s operations nearly to a halt, Flynn laid off much of his staff. Since then, the dining area has reopened with limited capacity and he’s been able to hire back some employees.

Michele Chandler writes for the Redding Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. 

Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News.