Whiskey Mill, Alchemy and Sirens owner Kris Nelson stand in front of the busy outdoor dining tent at Whiskey Mill as lunch patrons dine in the afternoon. Due to reinstated restrictions by Gov. Jay Inslee, restaurants are required to serve food either to go or outdoors. (Zach Jablonski/Peninsula Daily News)

Whiskey Mill, Alchemy and Sirens owner Kris Nelson stand in front of the busy outdoor dining tent at Whiskey Mill as lunch patrons dine in the afternoon. Due to reinstated restrictions by Gov. Jay Inslee, restaurants are required to serve food either to go or outdoors. (Zach Jablonski/Peninsula Daily News)

Take-out, tents and reduced staff hours: Port Townsend restaurants adapting

Reinstated COVID-19 restrictions forces restaurant owners to get creative

PORT TOWNSEND — Take-out, delivery, tents and layoffs: these are all strategies being used by downtown restaurants in Port Townsend, as they try to stay afloat in-light of new restrictions on restaurants.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced reinstating restrictions on restaurants on Nov. 15, requiring them to close in-door dining and use take-out, delivery and limited outdoor seating beginning last Wednesday.

Owners of the Old Whiskey Mill, Ichikawa Sushi Bar and Silverwater Cafe are adapting to the new changes, but say that it will depend on community support to keep locally owned restaurants open.

Ichikawa owner Mark St. Oegger switched the restaurant to take-out and curbside service only on Tuesday, and reduced his staff to three, including himself. The restaurant is open from Tuesday through Saturday.

St. Oegger ordered a tent so as to eventually allow outdoor dining again, but it is unknown when the tent will arrive, due to the high demand for them caused by the many restaurants across the state and nation using the outdoor model, he said.

After Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order in the spring, Ichikawa lost about 50 percent of its revenues overall. He hopes the restrictions on restaurants will be lifted Dec. 14, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if the order is extended through the winter holidays.

His main concern at this point is “keeping the doors open,” he said Thursday.

“I just think it’s crazy that they’re restricting restaurants so much more than everybody else,” St. Oegger said.

“We’re a small town and our restaurants per capita is fairly large for this small town and I have a feeling we’re going to see some of them closing up for good.”

More information on Ichikawa can be found at https://ptsushi.com/. Orders can be placed over the phone at 360-379-4000 or in-person.

Silverwater Cafe owner Alison Hero had her staff reapply for unemployment and is doing a take-out only model. She and her business partner David Hero are stretching their finances, as they are supplementing their employees’ unemployment benefits out-of-pocket, she said Friday.

Back in the spring, Silverwater initially switched to a take-out model, but it was unsustainable and the cafe closed, at the time potentially indefinitely.

It wasn’t until the business was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan, that the cafe was able to reopen, but that loan has now run out, Hero said.

In the summer, Silverwater was able to open in-door dining, as well as serving customers outdoors through the City of Port Townsend’s “streeteries” program. This program allowed restaurant owners to apply for a permit to use parking spaces in front of their business as outdoor dining space.

Hero supports trying to curb the spread of COVID-19, but recognizes the damaging impacts on her restaurant and employees.

She emphasized a need for community support.

“We’re invested in keeping our staff employed,” Hero said. “It matters to us how people support restaurants at this time. It makes a difference when people decide to go out to eat.

“We are in support of trying to drive this virus down and it was starting to get a little bit scary in Jefferson County the way it was rising up. We’re in support of keeping everybody safe and trying to win this fight, but it is a huge blow financially to this establishment and all the restaurants.”

More information on Silverwater can be found at https://www.silverwatercafe.com/ or can be reached by phone at 360-385-6448.

Whiskey Mill, Alchemy and Sirens owner Kris Nelson has been setting up large tents outside the three restaurants for outdoor dining. She has updated to-go menus and is offering delivery within a 4-mile radius for all three restaurants, she said.

“Doing just dine out is not worth being open,” Nelson said. “As busy as we were [in spring], as many take-out meals as we served, as wonderful as the community was, it was only 20 percent of our normal sales and we were fairly busy.

“Every single day that we were open last spring and early summer, we paid to be open, and that was OK because we were creating jobs.

“We were hoping that it wouldn’t last too long,” she added.

”So, what I learned is just doing take-out isn’t sustainable for us and we need to come up with more creative ideas.”

Nelson’s employees also had to go back on unemployment due to reduced hours, she said.

Nelson also took advantage of the streeteries program, and the tents are now covering those places.

She’s working on installing safe electric heaters as well, to make the areas more comfortable. She said she began working on the covered tent areas five weeks ago, in preparation for possibly needing to rely on them.

“We’re being a little bit more creative this time, a little more clever, and building on the things that worked well and trying to capture those people that do want to go out and have something available for them,” Nelson said.

More information on Nelson’s businesses can be found at http://www.sirenspub.com/, http://alchemybistroandwinebar.com/ and http://theoldwhiskeymill.com/.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]

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