Omar Hernandez, restaurant manager at Adam's Rib Smoke House, packs up a pick-up order on Wednesday, Feb. 24, as the restaurant readies to re-open later this week. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

Mike Adams has tried to make the outdoor seating areas at the two locations of Adam’s Rib Smokehouse as comfortable as possible during Salem’s cold, wet months. 

In November, Gov. Kate Brown banned indoor dining across Oregon in response to rising Covid transmission while still allowing outdoor seating and takeout. So Adams, set up heaters on the covered patios at both its locations at 1210 State St. and 2505 Liberty St N.E. and customers were advised on Facebook to BYOB (bring your own blanket).

Despite the efforts to accommodate outdoor winter dining, Adams said the breeze would still blow through and it probably wasn’t all the comfortable eating a meal in a heavy coat. 

On Friday, that’ll all change as restaurants in Marion and Polk counties will again be allowed to offer limited indoor dining. Following a steady decline of new Covid cases, Brown announced on Tuesday that she would be relaxing restrictions for the two counties. 

While some restaurants are reluctant to embrace indoor dining following 2020’s unpredictability, others can’t wait to welcome customers back in from the cold. 

“Until we get full indoor dining, we are just going to be getting by,” said Adams. “But this will be one more step in that direction.”

On Friday, bars and restaurants in Salem can offer indoor dining but can’t exceed 25% capacity or 50 customers, whichever is smaller. Tables are still limited to six people per party from no more than two households.

Adams said that with the reductions, he’ll be able to accommodate between roughly 12 and 15 customers at each location. He said that Adam’s Rib Smokehouse has done okay with to-go orders. But until its locations can use their full capacity to serve customers burgers and plates of brisket, it’ll just be surviving. 

To accommodate indoor service he said he had to hire a couple of new people to his staff, which is at about 12. He said hiring has been a challenge because restaurants and bars are now competing with each other for employees. 

Adams said he’s confident that customers ready to return to some semblance of “normalcy” will again dine at a restaurant indoors. 

As Friday approaches, the Salem Eats Facebook page, created by the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce to boost restaurants, has been active with posts from restaurants announcing they’re reopening for indoor dining and questions from customers. 

Tom Hoffert, CEO of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, said in an email that the governor’s decision to relax the restrictions is a small step forward for the local business community, which he said has struggled during the pandemic. He said he was encouraged to see Salem residents support the city’s restaurant scene while restrictions were in place by ordering takeout and delivery.  

“Salem restaurants are a vital piece of the very fabric which defines our city’s livability – we are not a city filled with national brands, but rather we are a community filled with vibrant tastes and diverse cultures from local owners who share their handiwork each time we dine and converse over a prepared meal,” he said. 

But Linae Sielicky, the owner of Gerry Frank’s Konditorei, said she’s not quite ready to open her restaurant, which specializes in cakes and desserts.

She said she offered indoor service after last September’s fires. But months later indoor dining was again banned just after she had hired four people.

Members of her team of 12 have told her they want to get the Covid vaccination before serving customers indoors. Besides, she said, they’ve been doing a “tremendous” amount of to-go orders. 

But she dreams of when she can welcome customers back in. Right before the pandemic, she expanded the restaurant, located at 310 Kearney St S.E., to increase its capacity from 35 seats to 50. 

“I have this big beautiful restaurant and I want to see people inside having fun,” she said. 

Xochitl Muñoz, who co-owns La Margarita with her husband, said their revenue has been down significantly since they’ve been limited to takeout. They tried to open outdoor seating, but their arrangement ran afoul of city regulations. 

The restaurant, located at 545 Ferry St. S.E., normally has a capacity of 200 that will now be at 50 when they reopen on Friday. She said they won’t add to their staff of 13 and will instead increase their hours. 

Muñoz said she’s looking forward to hearing the ambiance of a restaurant with utensils clinking on dishes, while people laugh and talk over margarita flights and plates of enchiladas suizas. 

“We are really excited to see our customers,” she said.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

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