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New executive order a ‘game changer’ for local restaurants, bars

Gov. Roy Cooper’s new executive order that went into effect at 5 p.m. Friday eases gathering and occupancy restrictions and lifts the statewide 10 p.m. curfew. That is welcome news for many in the local restaurant and bar industry.

The new executive order pushes the 9 p.m. alcohol sale cutoff time to 11 p.m. It also allows bars and taverns to open at 30% capacity.

Joan and Roger Meyland own Grub Brothers and The Bank Bistro in downtown Washington. Both restaurants have been open at limited capacity during the pandemic. Joan Meyland says the loosened restrictions will prove beneficial for their restaurants and the industry as a whole.

The new executive order states that restaurants can open their doors to 50% of their capacity.

“We can sell alcohol till 11 p.m. That makes a big difference for us because we were closing early,” Meyland said. “People try to come in for dinner because they know they have to be home by a certain time. This will generate more business for sure.

“With the weather warming up, we’re going to be adding more outside seating, she added. “We’re ecstatic with downtown looking so good. People can sit outside, and I think they’ll feel more comfortable with that.”

Todd Rodzen, owner of the Captain Cooks restaurant on the Washington waterfront, said the loosened restrictions are a “game changer.”

“It’s huge for us — being closed at 9 was very damaging,” Rodzen said. “Sometime in November, when (Cooper) first changed the cutoff time to 9 p.m., the week following that change we lost 30% of our business.

“We have dinners, we have drinks, and we have late-night appetizers, and losing that business was very difficult on us. So going back to 11 p.m. is great.”

Rodzen says that the changes will make a difference with staffing. Rodzen said he had to make cuts when business dropped in November, and his staff has been whittled down to just four employees. With Cooper’s new order in place, Captain Cooks is able to start hiring again.

Bars that don’t have outdoor seating options haven’t been able to open for business during the pandemic. Market Street Pub in Washington, for example, has been ordered closed since St. Patrick’s Day 2020. The bar attempted to reopen with limited capacity last June, but the location closed again after the state Alcohol Law Enforcement agency stepped in.

“It was unfair that places like Market Street Pub were closed, and restaurants right down the road that were serving alcohol were open,” Rodzen said. “It’s now a little better. There’s still a ways to go until these restrictions are removed.”

Pub owner Connie Langley couldn’t be reached for comment after Cooper announced the new executive order Wednesday. The North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association, which has been a vocal advocate for the reopening of such establishments, released a statement following Cooper’s announcement.

“The North Carolina Bar and Tavern Association applauds (Cooper’s) decision and is confident that as COVID numbers rapidly improve further, the remaining restrictions will be reduced and ultimately removed,” the statement reads in part.

“While this decision has come too late for many bars to ever reopen, the survivors are more than ready to welcome guests back into their barrooms.”

Market Street Pub announced on its Facebook page that it would open this weekend

Cooper’s new executive order also allows nightclubs, indoor amusement parks, movie theaters and sports and entertainment venues to open at 30% capacity. It also raises the indoor gathering limit from 10 to 25.