Farmington-area restaurants excited to reopen indoor dining again amid drop in COVID-19 cases

Matt Hollinshead,

FARMINGTON — Word that the state will allow indoor dining rooms to gradually reopen was welcome news for local eateries in the Four Corners.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Wednesday that restaurants will soon be allowed to have indoor dining at 25 percent capacity amid a significant decrease in COVID-19 cases across the Land of Enchantment.

“I absolutely think it’s going to boost our revenues,” Rubia’s co-owner Randy Hodge said. "It’s been difficult to fill the restaurants up for outdoor dining, with the exception (of weekends). … We’ll know in a week what it’s done for us. It’s going to help a lot people, especially the chain (restaurants).”

The revised public health order for restaurants will take effect on Saturday.

“I think anything’s progress. Twenty-five percent’s better than nothing,” said Ryan Lucero, co-owner of Ice Age Frozen Yogurt & Coffee. “The state is recognizing that we’re making progress in the right direction. … When they kept getting extended over and over and over, it seemed like it wasn’t going to change.”

MORE:Indoor dining to resume in New Mexico, houses of worship get capacity boost

Customers in outdoor seating at TJs Diner at 119 E. Main St., in Farmington, on Aug. 6, are being served food. TJs and three restaurants are seeking to have the food service permits reinstated after violating the state's public health orders.

One family-owned restaurant that expanded its outdoor seating to serve its customers also welcomed the news, and its potential for more revenue.

“It’s super exciting. It’s been a little nerve-racking. … It is kind of a breath of fresh air,” Clancy’s General Manager Lewis McMullen said. “It's some of the best news we’ve had in a while. If we keep doing everything safe like we are, I think we can do indoor dining safely.”

Aside from expanding operations again, the other major worry was the impending cold weather’s impact on outdoor dining.

“It actually might increase revenue slightly. There is a small percentage of people who prefer to be inside,” Lucero said. “It’ll be good for morale in general, trying to get some normalcy.”

MORE:4 restaurant owners disappointed in court decision, seek to reinstate permits

Lucero also said having some degree of indoor dining will help restore that connection restaurants have with customers.

“For restaurants in general, it’s going to be a big thing. It’s a lot less personal when you have to sit outside,” Lucero said. “A lot of people go out (to eat) for the connection aspect of it.”

Still, Lucero said it’s a good idea that the reintegration process for indoor dining is being done gradually and slowly to help minimize risks.

Face coverings and social distancing policies, which include an exception for eating and drinking upon sitting down at tables, will remain in place for safety purposes.

At Clancy's, the preparations have begun and the outlook is hopeful.

“Everyone’s respecting the issue, and our tables are spaced… As long as we follow guidelines and customers follow the rules as well, I think we can move forward safely,” McMullen said. “We’ll start cleaning and get our dining room ready. The crowds will come.”

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 on Twitter at @MattH_717.

Support local journalism with a digital subscription