ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. - The state of California will fully reopen its economy on June 15, and restaurant and bar owners are preparing for the reopening and how it could impact their businesses.
Wil Dee, the owner of Haven Craft Kitchen + Bar in Old Towne Orange, is anticipating the reopening.
"June 15th would end up being another change. The only constant is change right now. Being able to have a fully vaccinated person be able to be inside without a mask, I think that's a bigger thing. Also, not having the limitations of distancing and other things," said Dee.
Haven is a popular destination with a full-service restaurant. The restaurant now has an expanded outdoor dining space, after city leaders decided to shut down the street to provide more outdoor dining possibilities for restaurants.
"Right now, I have all of this [outdoor dining space]. I'm going to continue to use it so people can feel safe until it's gone and I have to pivot," said Dee.
Dee said when it comes to mask-wearing, it will ultimately depend on what his staff and customers want for a policy.
"I've had staff members say hey I'm going to continue wearing my mask. That sounds great if that's what you want to do. Most of my staff are fully vaccinated. Everybody's got to have their contributing thoughts but I'll take that in and then make our decision on what we will do moving forward," said Dee.
Dee also urged the importance of supporting the restaurant industry after the reopening as many establishments are dealing with staffing concerns.
"My kitchen didn't get any bigger, my bar didn't get any bigger and I definitely don't have access to as many staff members as I did before. That's a growing challenge and it continually gets worse," said Dee.
Mike Flynn, the owner of O SEA, a newly opened seafood restaurant in Old Towne Orange, is also anticipating the reopening of the state. The restaurant has been a dream of Flynn's to reopen for a while and was supposed to open in late August of 2020, but was stalled due to the pandemic.
"Last year was very challenging honestly in so many ways but it's a very different experience working at a restaurant just boxing up carry out packaging, you lose the fundamental joy of working in a restaurant which is serving up food and talking to people," said Flynn.
Flynn said he is most focused on providing an exquisite dining experience for guests, and staff retainment.
"I'm very interested in how operators are taking care of their team members looking forward, based upon the past year. If anything, we need to rework our market based on the employee market today," said Flynn.
Flynn said he has not yet determined the restaurant's policy when it comes to mask-wearing, though said it is likely the staff will choose to not wear masks once the state reopens.
"Here in Orange for the most part my impression is the guests seem pretty comfortable with the service team taking their masks off. We haven't quite made that call yet we still have a couple more days to decide," said Flynn.
Paul's Cocktails, a staple in Old Towne Orange, had to improvise during the pandemic because only establishments that served food were allowed to remain open. The bar ended up serving various foods and utilizing a taco truck to remain open for guests.
"June 15th is a huge thing because obviously it's been over a year, more than a year and everyone's able to feel a bit normal again," said Nissa, a bartender at Paul's Cocktails.
Nissa said they transformed part of their parking lot into an outdoor dining space during the pandemic, but she is anticipating having guests return to the bar without social distancing requirements.
"It's nice to be able to actually have my normal well to serve people rather than opening up a can of soda to serve. I can actually do it the right way and then having people here at the bar to chit-chat with and not being far away from each other. I hope that it'll be back to the way it always has been. I hope everybody isn't nervous. People are still timid and scared to come out but we're doing everything we can. We clean, we wipe everything down, we wear our masks. Luckily on June 15 we will be able to be a little bit more normal but we'll be doing our precautions to wipe everything down," said Nissa.
Pamela Waitt from the Orange County Restaurant Association believes some changes during the pandemic like digital menus will stick around after the reopening.
"The digital menus, being able to scan, it's going to take a bit of a learning curve for new customers to figure it out in some cases, but it's a really efficient way of running a menu. It cuts on paper and I think it's definitely here to stay. I think people have definitely enjoyed the extra outdoor dining. It's been fun and now there's a fight to keep it. Many of the restaurants, their staff are still wearing the masks but I think in the next couple of weeks, we will see less and less of that," said Waitt.
Governor Gavin Newsom announced California will allow restaurants and bars to continue to-go cocktails at least through the end of the year. California is also updating its mask mandate to comply with CDC recommendations on June 15, which means fully vaccinated people will not be required to wear a mask in most establishments.
FOX 11 checked with officials in LA, Orange, Riverside, Ventura and San Bernardino counties, and all of the counties will continue to follow state guidance, allowing for expanded outdoor dining, and to-go cocktails after the reopening.